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Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008

Looking for an Anchor?

Burbank Cartel seeks to nurture the Milwaukee scene

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Without Translation, the new album from Milwaukee's Burbank Cartel, is the album I've been waiting for the band to make. It is an album that sounds remarkably modern, remarkably self-assured: It sounds like alternative rock should sound in the early 21st century. One could imagine it on an indie kid's iPod, somewhere between Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It in People and LCD Soundsystem's Sound of Silver. It sounds like little else coming out of Milwaukee right now, and-in a just world-will garner the band some attention on a national level.

  The key to Burbank Cartel's impressive maturation, according to band members, is the fact that they recorded Without Translation fully on their terms.

  "It was the fact that Craig [Johansen, Burbank Cartel's drummer] had put together a studio which gave us the opportunity to go in and record at our leisure," notes guitarist Nickolas Baker. "So we had the time to do things the way we wanted to do them."

  Without having to watch the clock (or wallets), the band was finally able to find a sound that suited it.

  "With our previous records, we recorded locally, and you could tell we recorded locally," Johansen explains. "Studios tried to make our sound as clean as possible, and it didn't really sound like us at all."

  The sound that Burbank Cartel explores on its new album is dense and multilayered. The best cuts, while not veering too far from traditional song structure, do take chances, and there is a sense that the band is becoming more adventurous as it gets older.

  "It seemed like the bands we were listening to, bands like Wilco and Broken Social Scene, had their own thing going," says vocalist/guitarist Bill Couture. "They would throw absolutely anything they wanted to into a song and then have the ability to say, 'OK, we'll see if that works.'"

  For Burbank Cartel, the construction of Johansen's studio gave the group the space to follow a similarly inclusive approach to songwriting.

  The band is refreshingly confident that the local scene will appreciate its latest work. "The Milwaukee independent underground has always been fairly open and accepting to different types of stuff," Baker notes, a reality that the group says has created an extremely vibrant and eclectic scene.

  "I think I kind of like Milwaukee for that, where you're always in for sort of a surprise," Couture adds.

  To Burbank Cartel, this appreciation of the local scene is more than rhetorical. Aiming to document the diverse music coming out of the city, the band has formed Former Airline Records, an independent label that has recently put out Without Translation as well as The Disappearance, the newest album from Canyons of Static. The intent of the label, according to band members, is to provide the city with a label devoted to regional acts. Whereas cities like Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Chapel Hill, N.C., have had homegrown labels such as Touch and Go, Dischord and Merge to help grow their respective scenes, Milwaukee has never had such an "anchor" label. Such an endeavor, if successful, would be a welcome addition to Milwaukee's cultural landscape.

  Burbank Cartel shares a 10 p.m. CD release show at the Cactus Club on Friday, Oct. 10, with Canyons of Static (also celebrating a CD release) and Patchwork.