Billow is the solo indie/atmospheric rock project of Chicago-based musician Robert Cundiff. While written and performed by Cundiff, all songs were recorded, mixed and mastered by Rai Torres in Elgin, IL.
I feel this is important to mention because the production on this EP should be championed just as much as the songwriting. It is Torres’ work which really helps showcase Cundiff’s talents in terms of songwriting and performance ability. The perfect combination of ambience and punchy indie-rock depended on the production behind the scenes.
This six-track self-titled EP Billow opens with “I.” This is an instrumental driven by a throbbing, but entirely-soothing bass rhythm, along with glistening, high-pitched electric guitar twangs which reverberate into infinity. A sample of a man overlaps the instrumental, as he preaches about happiness, sanity and security. It feels optimistic and pessimistic all at the same time. Whatever the moral of the story, it must be an upbeat song. After a year of ups and downs, this feels like a welcoming, warming blanket.
Then, quite unexpectedly, “Float By” bursts into view with a punchy, indie-rock drum beat. The atmospheric guitar remains, but now Cundiff’s vocals have entered the mix. Emotive, passionate but soft, Cundiff portrays a powerful sentiment through every word uttered. It’s catchy as the punchy drum beat and bass rhythm support the glitchy, glistening, soothing melody behind the alternative-rock madness.
“Signal Fire” descends back into calmer sentiments reminiscent of old school Foals. The drumming falls further back into the mix, driven by tremolo-driven electric guitar-picking, which echoes off into the wide-open atmosphere of the track.
Cundiff’s vocals are just as impressive as ever; he somehow manages to remain heard over the complex musical chaos taking place beneath the vocals, despite the soft style of his singing. Some multi-layering of vocals helps with this, but the point is that it’s all produced well.
This is a complex, space-driven EP full of numerous layers into which a listener can sink their teeth. As a solo effort, what Cundiff has achieved here, under the Billow persona, is even more impressive. Of course, kudos should go to Rai Torres for his effort in terms of mixing the EP. The production is what truly helps each instrument, including Cundiff’s voice, to blend perfectly together and also shine separately.
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