Vic Alvarez has a long history with IC. By talking about his new project Saint Popes, I’ve now covered three of his bands, stretching all the way back to (incredibly) 2004. He’s also written for the site at points. So it’s with a certain confidence that comes from seeing the whole backstory that I can tell you this: The gentle singer/songwriter tunes of Saint Popes’ self-titled EP are my favorite songs that Alvarez has ever attached his name to.
Having a strong collaborator helps: Michelle Keating handles a lot of the vocals. Her strong, clear mezzo-soprano voice fits perfectly with the unadorned, stark arrangements. Even though there are only five entries on the EP, they are varied in style: “Atlas” is a tune reminiscent of the Weepies in its perky yet not overly energetic strumming; “Warm” and “Paperbag” evoke Jason Molina’s slowcore in different ways; “Somewhere” is a charming, peppy pop song. I hear a lot of singer/songwriters, but the spare, tight production cuts through the clutter of what I usually hear.
Even though this band doesn’t share the country affectations that The Civil Wars included in their sound, those looking for a band to fill the post-CW hole in their hearts could do real well to check out Saint Popes. It’s beautiful, crisp, emotional music played without pretense; I don’t ask for much more out of bands.
There are few things more soothing and beautiful than an a cappella choir used to its full potential. The Silver Lake Chorus understands this, and has released the two-song EP Wreckage to prove it. They’ve got Ben Lee producing and A.C. Newman writing on the track, so it can be understood why “Wreckage” is a quirky, upbeat indie-pop tune with piano. It’s fun and clever, but it’s not the jewel. “From the Snow Tipped Hills” is a gorgeous piece that hearkens directly back to what a cappella means in Italian: “in the manner of the chapel.” It shows off what sort or reverent magic choirs can produce for an audience that (potentially) has never heard a full SATB go for an Eric Whitacre piece. Need more proof that it’s worth your time? Justin Vernon of Bon Iver wrote it. Yes. You need to hear this thing right now.