Channeling the rock n’ roll gods through his impossibly fast fingers, guitarist and composer Randall Ward unleashes pure audiological ferocity in his new album Becoming unlike anything that the late 2010’s have experienced to date. In the opening track “2+2,” listeners are assaulted with a wall of sound that is almost exclusively generated by brash, carnal amplifiers crashing against a fiery drum beat and lashings from the bass that can only be compared to the cracking of a heavy whip. It’s a brutal introduction that devolves into the elegant “Day By Day” seamlessly, and by the time the blues rocking “Pick It Up” comes into focus we’re powerless to resist the smothering nature of the visceral music that we’re being treated to in all of its high definition splendor.
“Islington Blue” starts off as an atmospheric space jam before unfolding into a progressive rock freak out reminiscent of David Gilmour. It’s followed up by the plaintively earnest “Have You Seen Her,” which exotically weaves a thin wave of immaculate notes into a Middle Eastern-style backing track. The song is decadently multilayered, but it doesn’t egomaniacally overemphasize the out of this world talents of the players. The rollicking “You Don’t Care” injects a bit of pop/rock stability into Becoming before ultimately clearing out for the churning “Second Chance,” which builds up our tension before cutting us loose into the yearning amalgamation of blues, country and jazz guitar in “NACA.” I don’t know why, but Becoming plays more and more like a concept piece with each spin, and we’re able to analyze its most subtle details with each uninterrupted listening session.
The six minute long anthology track “Happy Trails” does a fine job of tying together some of the loose ends left over from “NACA” by increasing the tempo and easing up on the scooped equalization. For being a guitar-oriented album, Stuart Millsapps and Alex Espinosa do their part to make it a well-rounded release that doesn’t focus solely on the mad skills of Ward alone, but also his ability to collaborate with other equally ambitious musicians who share his devotion to the craft. The roaring “In a Child” exemplifies the trio’s compatibility better than any other song on the record, but I think that it’s just a taste of what this group can do when they’ve got all the right weapons at their disposal.
Becoming wraps up with the glistening psychedelia of “Close Your Eyes,” which rises out of the ethers like a mysterious fog and invites us into its warm embrace to stay for a while. Critics have always measured rock records by the quality of their guitar play, and though Randall Ward pulls out all the stops and delivers his most elaborate performance on record yet, Becoming is far too impactful, melodic and stimulating to be considered a “guitar album” exclusively. This is the LP that rock fans have been waiting for since the demise of the guitar solo in 2002, and in many ways it offers just as many hints as to what the future of the genre could hold as it does landmarks in Ward’s own developmental journey. The bottom line? Becoming is an amazing record, and I don’t think any hardcore pop fan’s collection would be complete without it.