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The rock 'n' roll road trip to end all road trips

Atlanta buzz band Balkans attempt the impossible on a 48-hour sprint to New York



Hidden in the maze of smudged brownstones and sickly grey-and-white storefronts lining the streets of Brooklyn's East Williamsburg, Shea Stadium sits atop a dreary, two-story warehouse. It isn't the baseball park that was once home to the New York Mets, but a dingy rock club that co-opted the stadium's hallowed name after it was demolished in 2009.

It's the epitome of a DIY music dive, only dirtier. Scribbled in Sharpie on nearly every wall, chicken-scratch graffiti slings mud at bands ranging from electro-posers Crystal Castles to lesser-known groups with names like Bagel and Good Sex. The main room is lined with dilapidated couches that look as if they're teeming with toxic allergens. The acrid smell of sewage and scorched motor oil taints the air. A glass retail counter that probably used to display lipstick serves as a makeshift bar beneath the club's name, which is painted on the wall and framed in a string of Christmas lights.

This is where Balkans drummer Stanley Vergilis, bassist Woody Shortridge, guitarist Brett Miller, and vocalist/guitarist Frankie Broyles have landed after flying 800 miles from Atlanta to make or break their dreams of indie rock stardom.

The polite disposition of the four fresh-faced lads belies their ability to crank out wiry and complex yet melancholy post-punk numbers that are sophisticated beyond their years.

While most bands at this career juncture work to gain stardom by slogging it out on the road, Balkans aim to bypass that route. In the weeks leading up to their trek, the band has been heralded by tastemakers such as Altered Zones, the Needle Drop, BrooklynVegan, Vice and the distinguished NPR, which called Balkans' self-titled debut album (due May 10 via local label Double Phantom) "a rollicking party record washed in harmless self-indulgence." But it was Fader that most poignantly surmised the band's potential when reviewing the song "Troubled and Done": "A chord change or two and you could almost see this in an iPod commercial? That's a compliment guys!"

It's one thing for a young band to garner some Internet buzz before fading into the daily blizzard of videos and MP3s. It's another to transcend the blog hype and turn that rash of attention into real-world success. But because the group's members have decided to stay in college they simply can't constantly be on the road. So they've come to New York for a weekend mission of shock and awe. It's a calculated attempt to work smarter, not harder, at attaining their aspirations by getting the attention of a career-making booking agent or two — all without missing a day of class.

"Frankie wants to make a career out of this band, that's his minimalist vision," says bandleader Vergilis. "Woody wants to be in the coolest band ever. Brett is in this to have fun. Me, I want to be in the biggest band in the world."

This confluence of fun-loving and goal-oriented personalities lies at the heart of Balkans' drive. They have no manager and little experience, but they envision themselves as more than just another rowdy indie rock band.

"We're not just a bunch of dudes who are fun to be around and who do crazy shit at our shows," says Vergilis. "Anyone can make an ass out of themselves on stage, and we love that, but we're recording artists and we're capable of doing so much more."

Like many upstarts, the group has drawn criticism for wearing its influences on its sleeve. But compared to most local bands, Balkans remain two steps ahead, gaining their lead by refining their sound and pushing themselves in inventive ways.

After a two-year incubation period, the band has conjured an unexpectedly crisp and mature sound that defies both its inexperience and Atlanta's simplistic, lo-fi rock reputation. On the eve of releasing its debut full-length, the sudden burst of attention is unusual for such a young band. If ever there was a time for Balkans to step up, it's now.

Still, one can't help but look at them and wonder: Are they ready?

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