Snowman – Absence

It’s hard to ignore the immediate disappointment of Absence: the best of the Snowman trilogy, we’ll never see this magnum opus in the live setting. Yet, this disappointment feeds the emotions that drip from the album: remoteness, desolation, search and discovery. The band has certainly discovered themselves, and are assured as ever with the direction of this album.

The bass groove of Snakes & Ladders opens the album and is almost danceable. It’s a catchy pop hook if ever Snowman has written one. This feeling is echoed in Memory Lost, which has an equally catchy bassline.

The percussive burst that opens Hyena cashes in on the floor tom and tribal percussion fads. A feature that’s already been done to death of late, Snowman don’t take a backwards step here. Following the opening burst, an echoing and fading falsetto, group chanting, guitar and piano all escalate before suddenly coming to a close.

There’s a confidence and poise throughout Absence, a feeling that Snowman have truly harnessed their sound and applied all their energy and talents into exploring it. This confidence gives layers to each song, allowing for different aspects to be discovered upon each listen. Faint reprises of the main piano riff line give a tease the opening of Δ, while it takes several tens of listens for most lyrics to eventually untangle from incredible falsettos and chants. These staggeringly high vocals are best heard on Memory Lost, which opens acapella before a steady kick-drum beat and precise, mechanical strikes of a snare.

Thematically and sonically, there’s much consistency across Absence. Of the lyrics that can be made out – most seem to deal with urban isolation, loss and desire – there are a few that provide a real setting for the album. “Closer, closer, come to us” is sung during the titular track, while there’s a search for something missing in séance: “Where is my baby/Where is he hiding?” The second verse of the epic White Wall describes “waves of weightlessness”, a sensation that Snowman have certainly managed to put into sonic form across this album.

The title track – the album’s last – brings it all together nicely. The trademarks of the album are all accounted for: precise drumming, repetitious and incomprehensible falsetto, airy synths that hover and linger in the furthest background. Indeed we get our ‘closest’ to the new Snowman encapsulated in one song with the album closer, but static interrupts the song and, rather hastily – considering this is it for the band – it’s all over.

A masterpiece of something grander than rock music, Absence is immediately captivating. It’s weightless but grounded, hollow but dense, and haunting but gratifying. The sounds are distant and almost futuristic, but there’s no future for Snowman. They may have moved on from their beginnings in Perth – the album was recorded in over ten different cities, which presumably give the distant, searching mood – but Absence should be regarded as one of the best achievements in recent Australian music.