Album: The Absence of Presence
Label: Inside Out Music
American rock legends Kansas are back again with their sixteenth release, entitled The Absence of Presence. Set for release via Inside Out Music on July 17th, 2020, the album has largely promised an adherence to the band’s well-developed style of classic progressive rock music. Not being particularly familiar with Kansas beyond the standard “Carry on My Wayward Son” and other such hits, this album offered a unique opportunity for us to find out what the band is all about these days.
The album opens with the title track, starting with light, tinkling piano notes before the violin by Dave Ragsdale begins and the piano goes into a deeper tone. As the rest of the band join in, the track kicks up a notch as it mellows out into a bit of a militaristic snare marching beat. The lyrical lines are very traditional classic rock – one could as equally argue that it’s generic as it is a staple of the genre.
“Throwing Mountains” is a hard-rocking, groovy track with some flashy violins added for extra spice. It mellows out a bit during the verses and chorus, while keeping the pace enough that it maintains its grasp on the listener. As the song progresses, the vivid, choppy violin parts are what make this one of the top tracks on the album. Single “Jets Overhead” begins with an intro and then takes an electric turn before slowing down for its mellow and cheesy verses; however, it is kept alive by the reasonably dynamic backing music. Ronnie Platt‘s vocals sounds excellent, regardless of whether I enjoy the lyrical melody and the guitar solo by either Zak Rizvi or Rich Williams helps keep this song alive.
An anxious drum-driven rock intro opens “Propulsion 1,” which is the only instrumental on the album, featuring a lot of dynamic pressure leading it through ups and downs. It’s a very creative piece, managing to stay interesting throughout. “Memories Down the Line” is a piano-driven ballad, perhaps a bit too cheesy and nostalgic for my taste; the dramatic push from the lead guitar is predictable but still works in the context of the song on the whole and the overall increase in oomph in the second half brings it up and keeps it from crossing fully over into too cheesy.
The violin takes the lead in the intro to “Circus of Illusion,” which transitions into a mellow-yet-bustling rhythm. The chorus is a bit dull contrasted to the rest of the song, which has ambient instrumentation and an intriguing build-up lyrically that the music matches. “Animals on the Roof” is a fun and upbeat track, dancing to and fro on top of a laid-back base synth/guitar groove. The relaxed solo maybe could’ve used a bit more punch but this otherwise fairly catchy track could make for a good radio single.
There’s one more ballad, “Never,” which for me was again a bit too obligatory feeling, though admittedly I’m not generally a big fan of ballads. The piano-driven melody is pleasant and the vocals show a good degree of emotion, so ballad-lovers shouldn’t have an issue with this piece. The album, however, closes on what may very well be its strongest track, “The Song the River Sang.” It opens on an almost symphonic note but then quickly transitions into one of the most appealing rock music soundscapes I’ve ever experienced. The violins are stellar and the vocals play around with emotion and range, creating an astounding progressive track, almost with a hint of Steven Wilson to its vibe. I can easily say that this song may just make it into my nominations for this year’s best-ofs.
This album was a rather pleasant surprise on the whole. Not being overly familiar with the band in general, The Absence of Presence feels true to the classic groovy prog rock feel that Kansas is known for, while the inclusion of some modern elements bring the catchy rock tracks into a progressive dominion. The prog-loving phantom believed there was some great chill material here, for fans of the technical and stoner sides of music alike. While the ballads are a bit predictable and not every song knocks it out of the park, this album nevertheless represents a fine collection of enjoyable prog rock music for old and new fans alike.
Rating: 8.5/10, 4.5 stars
1. The Absence of Presence
2. Throwing Mountains
3. Jets Overhead
4. Propulsion 1
5. Memories Down the Line
6. Circus of Illusion
7. Animals on the Roof
9. The Song the River Sang