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Minor Moon’s Sam Cantor writes resonant journeys into songs. Across three albums culminating in Tethers (out March 26, 2021), the Chicago-based musician and sideman in Half Gringa has mined the pastoral and rollicking sounds of cosmic country for contemplative and thrilling songwriting. The core musicians who backed him on 2019’s An Opening return—drummer Nathan Bojko, bassist Michael Downing and keyboardist Colin Drozdoff, with the addition of lap steel guitarist Konstantine Stebliy — but here, the band is more locked in than ever, conjuring up engaging Neil Young grooves, eye-opening atmospherics, and a healthy amount of Midwestern twang.
Tethers came out of a period of upheaval for Cantor, a time where he had to confront uncomfortable personal realities. Following the disorienting dissolution of a long-term relationship, he sought help from regular therapy sessions and the wisdom of close friends and family, and slowly gained some clarity and steady footing. This process led to Cantor constructing a psychedelic and knotty sci-fi world in his lyrics in order to write about what he was going through with more freedom and imagination. “Minor Moon songs have always had this arc of discovery and I’ve always used them as a way to dive into really personal, philosophical, or emotional problems,” says Cantor. “It’s about finding some truth looking inward.”
The 10-tracks on the LP tell an evocative linear narrative plumbing the depths of personal disruption and coming out on the other side with humility and needed perspective. Lead single “No Lightning Fix” serves as the thesis statement for the whole record. On the track, which boasts warmed-hued guitars and an unhurried pace, the narrator finds themself lost in an abyss searching for answers or some deeper understanding. Cantor sings in the chorus that there won’t be any easy solutions to the quandary: “Among the rattling past / There’s a layer that packs / All the heat won’t let it go / A riddle crying to be told.” That there’s “No Lightning Fix” to figuring it all out doesn’t stop you from trying. “Practically every song I’ve written before has been trying to tell a complete story with a problem and some grand realization,” says Cantor. “But here I am expanding that process over the course of 10 songs and opening myself up to there being a lack of a realization at the end.”
Cantor and the rest of the band recorded Tethers in bursts at home, at Chicago’s Foxhall Studios, and with the ubiquitous local engineer Dave Vettraino (Lala Lala, Dehd, Deeper) at Decade Studios and Public House Sound Recordings. The sessions were the result of many hours of loose rehearsals, where the band experimented with each song’s form until they all felt organic and kinetic. Just take the propulsive, barnstorming energy of the rocker “Was There Anything Else” or the surging, raucous “Hey, Dark Ones.” Perhaps the best example of how fluid and engaging the band’s arrangements are on this record comes in the jam packed single “Under an Ocean of Holes.” Enlisting V.V. Lightbody on vocals and flute, Ohmme’s Macie Stewart on violin, Nora Barton on cello, as well as a horn section of trombonist Nick Broste and saxophonist Alex Blomarz, the song gradually simmers to a bursting crescendo. It’s controlled, splendid chaos that signals a breakthrough in the record both musically for Minor Moon and for Cantor’s protagonist.
“I did a lot of growing between these two records and on this one I wanted to create a world in which the different references of every song would bounce around throughout the tracklist,” says Cantor. “I wanted it to be engaging where there’s a clear enough through line that someone who didn’t have my exact experiences could latch on to any one moment and create some meaning that relates to the whole record.” Tethers is an album full of questions and pushing to find the answers. But as Cantor sings on the simmering LP centerpiece “So Quiet,” that “I’m still learning how to be,” an endpoint revelation may not actually be on the horizon, but you still keep making your way anyhow.