As a classically trained pianist and multi-instrumentalist, Brett Gleason’s hands are not incapable. However, virtuosity is not synonymous with creativity, and on Manifest Gleason treads water in an ocean of Amos-isms and ivory-tickling.

Manifest shoots for the pitch blackness of night and winds up asleep at the controls. What could be an attempt at Nick Cave-esque dark piano ballads takes a wrong turn at Tupelo and winds up knee-deep in a sullen pothole.

The neo-classicism of Rough Love is a faint 40 watt glimmer of hope in the middle of the record. But the light is quickly extinguished by the safety of following track Sincerely. Only to be reignited by Alive, a comparatively upbeat attempt at demonic exorcism.

Mr. Gleason has chosen to walk a winding road, going for exorcism through soulfulness rather than through aggression as he does. Very few can tread that path and pull it off. The risk of appearing insincere or whinging is a hard obstacle to overcome. And Manifest climbs that obstacle like Private Pile in Full Metal Jacket.

The orchestrations across the album lend themselves to a sense of delusions of grandeur. While the broken-chordal accompaniment on the piano fails to lay a solid foundation for either the orchestrations or Gleason’s voice, a grating hybrid of Billy Corgan’s and Robert Smith’s angsty whines.

Manifest takes its radio-friendly-unit-shifter cues from the early-mid ‘90s alt-rock boom and does away with the razor edge that made the movement so thrilling in the first place. Leaving a whining LP in its wake.

If it were the written word you’d be craving an exclamation mark, such is the slow motion pace of Manifest. Moving fast as a snail’s sprint, Brett Gleason’s sophomore album is neither immediately arresting nor delicate enough to be alluring á la Buckley’s Grace.

Nary a hook in sight, Manifest plods along on the keys of a grand piano in a stately 3/4 waltz. The occasional rip of distorted guitar injects a modicum of life into the proceedings, but fails to revive the album. It may live and breathe, but just barely.

Manifest is the mere tip of the iceberg though. Underneath the surface are legions of similar singer-songwriters shooting for the stars and landing back in their bedrooms at their keyboards and/or guitars.

Maybe, fingers crossed, one of them will see that 40 watt glimmer.

by James Fleming

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