Kansas are prog without being pretentious, pomp-oriented without being wimpy, heavy by way of huge instrumentation and vintage with one foot firmly in the present.
Written by: DaveT
ALBUM: The Absence Of Presence
LABEL: Inside Out Music
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Ronnie Platt – vocals * Rich Williams – guitar * Zak Rizvi – guitar * Tom Brislin – keyboards, lead vocals (09) * David Ragsdale – violin * Billy Greer – bass * Phil Ehart – drums
TRACK LISTING: 01 The Absence Of Presence * 02 Throwing Mountains * 03 Jets Overhead * 04 Propulsion 1 * 05 Memories Down The Line * 06 Circus Of Illusion * 07 Animals On The Roof * 08 Never * 09 The Song The River Sang
Kansas will release their 16th studio album on July 17, 2020. Following a long 16-year hiatus, this is the follow-up to 2016’s ‘The Prelude Implicit’.
The album includes the addition of keyboardist Tom Brislin (Meat Loaf, Yes, Camel, Renaissance) who joined in 2019 to replace David Manion.
How good is it when you don’t feel the need to describe individual songs but the perceptions and sensations sparked by the music instead? The overwhelming intensity of the instrumentation, faithful to Kansas’ illustrious legacy, will leave you in awe.
Often times, I actually wished the songs didn’t end (if that’s possible) though some of them are rather extended like the one-two of the monumental Prog-oriented title track and ‘Throwing Mountains’, the latter more on the hard rock side and equally majestic. The production is ace as every instrument is EQ’ed in a way they all have room to shine. With the addition of the melancholic vibe and the gorgeous lyrics, it’s fair to say they don’t make ’em like this anymore.
Newcomers Platt and Rizvi since 2016 and now Brislin, are the driving force that took over the majority of the compositions, honoring Kansas’ progressive legacy and trademark sound, while adding a contemporary appeal. You gotta hear it. Simple, direct accessible melodies plague the recording; but with so many nuances and details going on, you can only discover them with each successive listen.
Platt fills Steve Walsh‘s shoes by melodically looking back at the enormous former singer, while shining with his own light. Silky, angelic, ethereal, always singing for the song, a real team player. Every intervention from David Ragsdale’s violin sends a different shiver down my spine, with his dual electric-acoustic solo on the impressive, dreamy midtempo ‘Jets Overhead’ being the peak in my book.
It’s been many moons since the last time an instrumental piece moved me. The fast-paced, short and sweet ‘Propulsion 1’, with a superb Ehart performance, hit all the right buttons for me. Brislin’s deep ballad ‘Memories Down The Line’ features a soaring violin solo whereas ‘Never’, the second ballad, is a reflective meditation on lost moments with profound lyrical content.
‘Circus Of Illusion’ and ‘Animals On The Roof’ both have a slightly more modern approach to them, the former with wise delay effects on the guitars.
‘The Song The River Sang’, the only tune with Brislin on lead vocals and another one he wrote by himself, wouldn’t be out of place in any good Kayak or Camel album, such is the Prog quality here. Its abrupt ending adds a welcome dramatic twist to the album’s finale.
I would’ve only asked for a few more hooks in the vocal department. Just because of this fact, it is not absolutely perfect to these ears. This very same album with another, say, ‘Carry On Wayward Son’-like vocal line would become the album of the decade as early as 2020 is. I know I may be asking too much. Yet, I cannot get the ‘Memories Down The Line’ chorus out of my head.
‘The Absence Of Presence’ epitomizes the definition of AOR as Album Oriented Rock. Every song oozes quality but the whole album is greater than the sum of its parts. Synergy, that is. Enjoyable from front to back. Kansas are prog without being pretentious, Pomp-oriented without being wimpy, heavy by way of huge instrumentation and finally vintage with one foot firmly in the present. Essential listening with superb artistic value.
Memories Down The Line