With a bluesy sway and drums that penetrate through our speakers like daggers meeting a thin silk sheet, Randall Ward lays into the thick vibrancy of “You Don’t Care” like he’s fixing a plate of scrambled eggs for breakfast – its second nature to him. Accompanied by Stuart Millsapps and Alex Espinosa, it’s just a glimpse into the hallowed rhythms and infectious grooves that their new record Becoming boasts in eleven of the most stylish rock tracks you’ll hear in the latter half of the 2010s. As melodically sumptuous as it is expertly composed and executed, Becoming is a watershed moment for its players and the style of music they’ve come to rule over so supremely.
Contrary to what you may have heard, rock n’ roll is not dead as of 2018. The multi-platinum success of electronica and hip-hop didn’t kill the genre, nor did the major labels who shunned it in favor of a more widely marketable sound in the mid-2000s. Actually rock has been evolving in the underground, blossoming into a completely different breed of wild animal than it was before. That animal is untamable, and mainstream listeners get to see what it’s capable of in Becoming, which never holds back from taking us as deep into the fire as we can without getting burned.
The rumbling intro to “Islington Blue” draws us into the electrified storm of free jazz-influenced guitar and drum dissonance, and before we know it we’re at the mercy of the most soulful set of strings this side of the Mississippi Delta. Coming in at just under five minutes, it’s a rather sterling listen in comparison to most of the FM radio fodder you’ll find when scanning your local dial, but what it lacks in simplicity it makes up for in sheer grandiosity. This was my favorite track from Becoming, but it’s hardly the only reason I’d encourage you to acquire your own copy.
From a guitarist’s perspective, it doesn’t get much better than Becoming. It’s a stunning masterclass on axe destruction that preserves the integrity of legends like Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen while also charting a new course perfectly suited for the experimental, postmodern era in rock music that we’re living in today. I wouldn’t call Becoming a straight up psychedelic piece, but it will definitely dig into your mind and provoke a lot of textured, rich emotion that you might not have even realized guitar riffs could do.
If I had to pick a song from Becoming that I would quantify as its centerpiece, it might be the staggering, ethereal ballad “NACA,” which sees the band orbiting around a lazy beat that finds them dexterously skirting the line between avant-garde shapelessness and cutting hard rock intensity. This track encapsulates the motif of Becoming brilliantly, and if you aren’t able to appreciate Ward’s passionate play in this song, you might not have an ear for truly exquisite guitar. He’s made a lifelong fan out of me, and I hope this won’t be the last collaboration between him, Millsapps and Espinosa. They’ve got more chemistry than a college laboratory, and the resulting product is nothing less than magical.