There are progressive artists out there who have been making music for what seems like forever. For some reason, they have never really garnered the support they deserve, though. Rick Miller is one such artist. His new album “Belief in the Machine” released on February 5th, and I’m finding it to be one of his best to date.
So far as I can tell, Canada’s Rick Miller has been making music since 1983, or even before. He was only active in bursts for some time, but truly began consistent releases back in 2000. Since that year, he has released 13 albums. He openly cites the atmospheric side of progressive rock, such as Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues, as his primary influences for his solo albums. He indeed sets out to make music in that vein, and he does it very well.
Rick plays a progressive rock that feels wispy, psychedelic, and somewhat melancholy. He is especially good at sauntering beats, epic and emotional guitar solos, and searing synth solos. You will also find that he loves flute, and so many songs are led by eerie flute passages and melodies. I would also mention that his vocal style reminds me of Steve Hackett’s harmonizing style, much more comfortable floating around the music than leading it. His guitar sound, too, sounds like Hackett’s at times, only with the more emotional side of Gilmour mixed in for good measure.
Rick is far more than the sum of his influences, though. Even though these influences are worn on his sleeve, his music doesn’t really resemble any of theirs when it comes to the writing and overall effect. You will find feelings of desperation, melancholy, and darkness on all of his releases, such as 2012’s “Dark Dreams” or 2014’s “Heart of Darkness”. He can also do quirky, such as on 2016’s “Delusional”. He has far more range than I think we give him credit, and his albums are always interesting and serene.
With “Belief in the Machine”, Rick doesn’t break any molds or try any new genres. No, this album is simply excellent songwriting, fantastic instrumentation, and undeniable atmosphere. You will hear lots of flute on this one, and I think Rick leans more on synth than guitar, too. Three of the ten tracks are also instrumental in full, and so it does seem like Rick is experimenting more with textures and emotions here, and maybe even ambient music.
The album highlights are many. Every track has its place and feels great. The opening track “Correct to the Core” is a bit of a slowburn, but the amazing guitars and funky beats that arise are worth the wait. The closing track “The Trial” is also a real winner, feeling quite mysterious and almost steampunk in the way it uses keys and cinematic nuances. It’s actually mostly instrumental, as well, since Rick’s voice doesn’t really show up all that much. There’s actually an instrumental track in the middle of the album called “Prelude to the Trial”, and it feels almost like an ambient, violin-led preparation for the epic final track.
You’ll also find a two part song called “That Inward Eye”. The first half is instrumental with a huge melodic focus on flute. The second half is shadowy, and the flute fades away into vocal harmonies. The third instrumental track is “Media Gods”, and it is one of my favorites on the album. It feels almost electronic in nature, with definite cinematic accents and foreboding feelings. While it ends with beauteous flute and acoustic guitar, the song overall feels like a warning. Another favorite would be “The Need to Believe”, more of a ballad with straightforward melodies and great vocals. Rick offers many different song styles and structures throughout the album, and so it never drags even a little.
“Belief in the Machine” is a diverse, consistent album. I’m just not sure how Rick maintains such high quality, with this new album being one of the best I’ve heard from him. Each song on this album feels important and well executed, and there are moments where I simply close my eyes and allow Rick’s signature sounds to wash over my mind; that is the type of album we have here. I hope you’ll check it out, and also Rick’s past albums.