It seems like a lifetime ago when Kansas released their last album, 2016's THE PRELUDE IMPLICIT. I will always be thankful for that album because it brought me back to the world of Kansas in a big way. I also consider that album one of the best and most complete releases in their outstanding history. In other words, they seriously have a tough act to follow. How did they do?
THE ABSENCE OF PRESENCE (Inside Out Music) is the sixteenth studio album from Kansas and features the line-up of Phil Ehart (drums), Rich Williams (guitar), Billy Greer (bass), David Ragsdale (violin), Ronnie Platt (vocals), Zak Rizvi (guitar) and the new guy... Tom Brislin (keyboards). Many times, new band members tend to just be a part of the process, but Brislin is all over this album, co-writing or writing almost all the songs, singing one and creating a musical canvas that the band fill in, creating the Kansas sound.
Kansas has a unique sound and style that makes them so unique to American music, 70's bands and progressive rock, always able to go in one direction, then at the drop of a hat, move into something else. Songs like The Absence Of Presence, Throwing Mountains and Circus Of Illusion seems to incorporate all these elements with rich vocals, amazing harmonies, virtuoso playing all within the framework of the song. An issue that most progressive bands struggle with is keeping a song together between musical indulgence... and Kansas doesn't do on this album. There are some unique songs like Animals On The Roof (one of my favorites) that have a different energy than the others but fits in perfectly with the beautiful Never (another one of my favorites) and the near perfect Memories Down The Line, one of the most expressive and beautiful songs the band has ever recorded... and yes, another one of my favorites.
The last song on the album, The Song The River Sang (yup, another favorite) is an interesting song and not just because it is sung by Brislin. It has a quirky feel to it that reminds me of something from YES' DRAMA album, a release I consider their best work. The song shifts between styles and sounds, giving me at times a nod to Marillion, UK, Electric Light Orchestra, RUSH (I do hear it Zak) and old school Genesis!
I have so many takeaways from my 20 or so listens to THE ABSENCE OF PRESENCE, the biggest is Kansas, once again are in top form! Songs, music, performances, running order.. the album is one of their best and so well put together and produced. When the world opens up and Kansas can hit the road for yet, another never ending run of shows, I would love to hear at least six of the album's songs to be included in the set. How many new releases can you say that about?
The final word on this album, or final three words... brilliant, just brilliant! I can't wait for the rest of the world to hear this one from start to finish and feel the way I do. Writing this review was incredibly (and surprisingly) difficult because at times I honestly couldn't find the words to convey what I was feeling. Kansas fans are some of the most loyal and dedicated fans in all of music and the reward for your/our many years of unwavering loyalty is THE ABSENCE OF PRESENCE!
Matman Rating - 9.5 out of 10.
THE ABSENCE OF PRESENCE will be released on June 26th 2020 from InsideOut Music.
The Power Chords Podcast is a twice-monthly podcast celebrating rock and metal music of the '70s, '80s, '90s and beyond. The show is co-hosted by Matt Herring and Brian LeTendre.