The Absence of Presence by Kansas

Release date: July 17, 2020
Label: InsideOut Music

There’s no denying that Kansas are still going strong for 50 years. They are one of the most important bands to come out of Topeka. Fifteen studio albums and five live albums later, their music is still playing on Classic Rock Radio stations to this day. But for me, Kansas are more than just a classic rock band. They have taken the aspects of Arena Rock, Pop, Classical, Hard Rock, and Progressive Music all into one.

When you think of their music, you may think of ‘Dust in the Wind’, ‘Point of Know Return’, and their legendary hit ‘Carry on Wayward Son’. But it’s more than just those hit songs you would hear on the radio. Cameron Crowe, who was a contributor to Rolling Stone magazine, and would later find success as a filmmaker with classics such as ‘Say Anything’, ‘Jerry Maguire’, and ‘Almost Famous’, wrote about the band during the time they were promoting their fifth studio album, Point of Know Return in a tour program from their 1977-1978 tour.

He writes, “Kansas has discarded any trace of a safety net. This is a special time to observe them, as the sextet boldly forges into the next phase of their seven-year career.” And he was absolutely right! Despite the various line-up changes, their sixteenth studio release The Absence of Presence is the band’s crowning achievement for 2020.

 

While we’re living in these tricky times that we’re going through between COVID-19 and the Quarantine situation, music will always lift our spirits up. Released on the InsideOut label, The Absence of Presence is the band’s follow-up to 2016’s The Prelude Implicit. Now it’s been a good while since I’ve listened to the band’s music. So for me to delve into their latest release, it was quite the trip to see what the band have done so far with their new album.

It marked a return to some of the longer tracks that clock in between 5, 6, and 8 minutes long. The magic is still there. And this album right here is their welcoming return to see where the band had left off. Ronnie Platt, who has taken over vocal duties after original singer Steve Walsh had retired from the band in 2014, has taken the baton to keep the fire’s burning. Guitarist Zak Rizvi, keyboardist and vocalist Tom Brislin along with original members Rich Williams, Billy Greer, David Ragsdale, and Phil Ehart, have kept the ammunition going to see what the band have in store for us. Listening to ‘Jets Overhead’ you could feel Ragsdale’s violin soaring through the distance as he shares some of the textures between Rich and Zak’s guitar lines.

The band gives David some incredible free-rein. It shows that he can nail down those solos on his violin to a “T”. At times he channels four of the masters on the violin; Curved Air’s Darryl Way, Jean-Luc Ponty, Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Jerry Goodman, and Atoll’s Richard Aubert. ‘Propulsion 1’ is one of Brislin’s compositions. He makes the jump to light-speed with his keyboards as he makes those engines hum with Ehart’s intensive pounding and making it sound like a symphonic fanfare.

The melodic yet pummeling guitars and violin on ‘Throwing Mountains’ opens up for Greer’s bass to make it sound like a metallic crunch. He along with Williams, Ragsdale, and Brislin rise up to the challenge as they delve into the waters for a crossover metallic approach between Premiata Forneria Marconi’s ‘Celebration’ and Transatlantic’s Bridge Across Forever-era.

I also love the way how Brislin and Williams are almost like wrestlers duking it out in the ring together with their spontaneity to see who will the world heavyweight championship of guitar solos. But then with a sudden twist, the orchestral storms through the punching vibrations as it sequences through Ragsdale by lending another helping hand for the band members.

The opening title-track features these echoing reverb effects on the piano chords while Ragsdale, Williams, and Rizvi, set up these goals to set the blimp ready for another voyage that the band are taking the listener on. It has these militant structures that Ehart does as he creates some pumping vibrations while the synths rise more and more for Platt searching for these extended pieces of the puzzle that the traveler has left.

And the mystery is quite a challenge before the organ-driven beats come bursting through the doors wide-open with some heavy guitar work that like an explosion ready to go off at any second. Speaking of the organ, ‘Animals on the Roof’ is Kansas honoring two legendary trios from Italy and Germany; Latte E Miele and Triumvirat as the closing track ‘The Song the River Sang’ which is sung by Tom Brislin, takes us down to the Nile where songs of the oceans are located.

For me, Kansas aren’t just a band, but a family as well. This was my fifth or sixth time listening to The Absence of Presence. I have to say that Kansas have really come a long way since their formation in 1970. And while it’s been an amazing ride for them, they still keep going. The train for them will never, ever stop. As I’ve mentioned earlier, their new album is their crowning achievement. And it’s a fine album that they’ve unleashed this year.

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