Garage bands these days come a dime a dozen, with their formulaic tracks, atonal vocals and frivolous lyrics. Last year presented the same situation with surfy lo-fi, with bands like the Soft Pack and Wavves coming to light amidst the hoards of mediocrity. Luckily, in addition to the aforementioned, proving that this whole revival isn’t fruitless, there’s bands like Balkans. Hailing from Atlanta, the quartet of Frankie Broyles, Woody Shortridge, Brett Miller, and Stanley Vergilis present interminable energy and fully indulge in the garage aesthetic, but do so with thoughtful composition and compelling melody – resulting in a phenomenally enjoyable self-titled LP.
Balkans are a master of tempos throughout the album, constantly switching it up to avoid monotony, but never losing steam. Whether it’s bouncy Strokes-indebted “Black Swan”, explosive, runaway-train banger “Let You Have It” or mid-speed, psychedelic “Georganne”, they wear each speed incredibly well, and demonstrate their ability to deviate from the standard two minute garage punk tune. Especially indicative of this is “I Can’t Compete”, where the guitar breaks halfway through to playfully bounce back and forth between ears, with a surfy melody and pounding percussion grounding the rest of the tune.
Boyles’ vocal performance also adds to “I Can’t Compete”, making it one of Balkans’ strongest. His drawn-out pronunciation in direct contrast to the rapid percussion creates an interesting, but fun, tension – the music incites brash dancing while the vocals demand swaying. This pervades most of the album, as his vocals prove to be as multi-faceted as the music itself. What he lacks in range, he makes up for in effort and delivery. The lyrics are brief narratives, anecdotal snapshots of loves found and lost. Singing heartfelt lines such as “Don’t stay too long, I can’t decide what to say to you now,” it’s hard not to get involved in what he’s saying and empathize.
Balkans may clock in at a mere 30 minutes, but the implications are a lot more immense: It’s proof that not all lo-fi garage bands sound the same, as Balkans continue to play and write with conviction and no fear of convention.