Cynical is a good word to describe sophomore albums in rock music. The old excuse is “You have your whole life to write your first album, and only a little bit of time to write your second.” It’s very often true. Look at Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusions, Kanye’s Late Registration or Bon Iver’s self-titled album. None of these are bad, but they’re not as good as their predecessors. Even though most second albums don’t hold a candle to debut albums, there are a few that show large amounts of improvement. Look at Modern Baseball’s You’re Gonna Miss It All, Led Zeppelin II, or Japandroid’s Celebration Rock. These are all albums that outshine the first and mark drastic improvement from their predecessor. Brett Gleason’s Manifest (independently out 4/14/17) is a perfect example of a great sophomore album that shows an artist truly finding his footing as a great songwriter.
Brett Gleason’s most noticeable improvement is his choice of instrumentation and production on Manifest. Gleason’s self-titled debut had some solid songs and the piano was produced well, but any other instruments, especially electric guitar are hastily recorded and sound tinny and thin. On Manifest, everything has fallen into place. The instrumentation and tones suit Gleason’s baritone. He focuses more on his piano and clean guitar tones. A song like “Alive” does feature an electric guitar prominently, but instead of distracting from the song, it enhances it by full fleshing it out. The horn work in the closing track, “The Urge” similarly makes for a great touch. “Rough Love” and “Expiration Date” show Gleason at his best: great piano playing with an irresistible melody.
Lyrically, this is also an album about Brett Gleason finding himself more comfortable than before. There are songs about perseverance (“Alive”), songs about break ups (“Expiration Date”), and reinvention (“Flattened”). On Manifest, Gleason can be self-reflective and a heartbreaker all in one song:
I’ll break your heart, so I can put it back together.
Stronger than ever, stronger now that you’ve decided:
To expect indifference, accept everything you fear and loathe.
Don’t rub your nose in it. Don’t plant it and watch it grow.
In addition to some incredibly introspective lyrics, Gleason also offers some lyrics that allow for an instant sing-along such as “The dream is alive” or “Our love has met the expiration date.” In addition to something incredibly wordy like “Macroscopic,” Gleason can also write a catchy tune that’s impossible to not sing along with.
Brett Gleason’s sophomore album is a lush work of excellent music from a growing singer/songwriter. Where so many rock artists tend to rush out a second album and it just seems like a lite version of the first, Gleason’s Manifest shows an artist that put a lot of time and effort into making a genuine improvement from his first.
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cover © Brett Gleason