For the Canadian duo Kacy & Clayton, the call to their homesteads in rural Saskatchewan is an ever-present siren. Kacy Anderson and Clayton Linthicum are immeasurably connected to the geographic spaces, family, and friends that shaped them both individually and musically. On Carrying On, their sixth studio album and produced by Jeff Tweedy, Kacy & Clayton explore the power of geographic connection and the awareness they develop when separated from their roots.
Whether it is their family, friends, or hometown, Kacy & Clayton are indelibly informed by their communities. “That Sweet Orchestra Sound” celebrates the gathering of friends as a way to reinvigorate and ground. The track creates a strong image of a hootenanny and the collectivity associated with the event. In contrast, Carrying on also exhibits the space created by separation from family and home. “High Holiday”, for instance, centralizes the feeling of isolation derived from being separated from the community that endows the individual with so much strength. The 1960s psychedelic vibe gives the track a defined feeling of solitude. Likewise, “The South Saskatchewan River” is laden with sentiment as the duo laments “we’re a long, long way to Galveston” and “we’re a long, long way from Hudson Bay”. Carrying On is a profound meditation on how Kacy & Clayton’s careers removed them from their communities.
Kacy & Clayton carefully express their understanding of dislocation as both a physical and mental distancing. “Providence Place” is a melancholic sketch of Alzheimer’s and the fear provoked by the encroaching forgetting. The track finds a musician packing up his belongings and preparing to move into a retirement community. He literally and figuratively hangs up his instruments as he realizes the extent of his memory loss: “I’ve known this tune for ages / But I can’t recall its name”. The track clearly illustrates that disconnection is potent for both mind and body. Here Kacy & Clayton evoke compassion and empathy when the track’s narrator sorrowfully contends, “my dear friend good things will end / I guess we’d better say so long.”
Carrying On is inundated with humanity and forces the listener to take an emphatic look at the lives of others. “Mom and Dad’s Waltz #2” centralizes the perspective of a child, “crying bitter tears”, as he moves among different families. His mother is trying to scrape together a livelihood and must sacrifice her child’s domestic stability. The track’s full instrumentation is a reflection of their previous release Sirens, which moved away from minimalism. Indeed, drummer Mike Silverman and bassist Andy Beisel provide a welcome anchor to Kacy’s soaring vocals and Clayton’s towering guitar playing. In an unfortunate turn of phrase, the child’s mother is identified as a “welfare Mom” reestablishing the derogatory imagery of a woman who allegedly misuses the social service. Yet it is evident that Kacy & Clayton attempt to cultivate empathy rather than contempt.
Kacy & Clayton revel in a false sense of comfort. In the title track, Kacy’s sweet vocals cast a facade over the brusque lyrics. The plain-speak is apparent when she sings, “Somehow we’re laughing / Carrying on when we know in an instant / It all could be gone / We’re all dying here together.” Valuing life, especially since death is unavoidable, is a recurring theme throughout Carrying On. The lyrical verisimilitude cuts through the figurative vocal sweetness, a tactic the duo revisits in “Intervention” and “In a Time of Doubt”. Their ability to set the bittersweet to music is a result of the association and detachment from their communities.
Despite their feelings of imbalance, Kacy & Clayton are musically symmetrical. Kacy’s voice, the primary vocals heard throughout the album, are aerial feats, with her voice soaring over Clayton’s deft fingerpicking. Their symbiosis is apparent in “The Forty-Ninth Parallel” where she regrets not marrying for money. The track’s title serves as a reference to the 49th parallel, a circle of latitude. Crossing 2,175 miles of the Canada–United States border, the 49th parallel spans from British Columbia to Manitoba. In many ways, the geographic token points the duo back to their Canadian roots while concertizing their connection to their home.