This St. Petersburg-based group has matured quite a bit since their debut as fresh-faced kids just a few years ago. Hemispheres shows Alexander & the Grapes moving beyond the straight-faced roots-rock of their first EP (2004's Alexander & the Grapes) and into some decidedly more sophisticated territory. Bandleader Alexander Charos' songwriting style now leans heavily toward the pastoral, folksy art-pop of groups like Fleet Foxes, and Hemispheres shows that the 24-year-old is intent on cracking a code that will push his band's sound beyond the dour, self-absorbed style of most contemporary alt-folk. The 12 songs here emanate a rollicking, open-chord warmth that's undercut with complexity and style, laying out Charos' dead-eyed lyricism on a somewhat surprising canvas. (Real talk: When did kids in their early 20s get so damned serious and sad?) You don't want to sing along to choruses about emotional turmoil and identity crises, but somehow Charos manages to get you to do just that, whether it's on the gentle push-and-pull dynamics of "East Coast" or the '80s-college-rock-indebted "Salesman."
Further, this is a band unafraid to fuck around in the studio; cuts like "Seeds" and "Jordan" benefit greatly from the soundscape flourishes that embellish them, but without those elements distracting from the solid writing at the core of these songs. It's just one of the neat tricks that A&G play; this is a band making folksy indie rock that's very much in the tradition, but manages to shift the perspective just enough askance that the listener is forced to pay a bit more attention than normal. Charos' sensitive lyricism is some open-book stuff, but it's far from gloom and doom; thanks to the Grapes' warm-blooded arrangements, this stuff is as joyful and welcoming as it is smart and self-aware.
Alexander & the Grapes