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Tough truths push Brat Sounds to make next album their last

What’s the difference between you and a musician?

The leading candidates are musical ability and the chutzpah to put it on display for everyone to judge. Beyond that? Not much, especially the more local you get.

They have day jobs. They have significant others. They hit the same mile markers we all hit as we get older. But there’s usually a song or an album that goes along with those markers. And that song or album will always exist as a reminder of what your life was and the decision you made to change everything.

Brat Sounds’ upcoming album Nothing, due out this Friday, Oct. 14, is that marker, that reminder. Because it’s also the Milwaukee band’s last album.

“It’s kind of bittersweet because we at least have this last thing to show for our efforts,” primary songwriter and vocalist Scott Cary explained. “But also I think everybody would be less bummed if this album came out a year ago or if the album sucked a little more in our eyes.”

To be clear, it doesn’t suck. It’s punk … ish. It’s pop … ish. Brat Sounds tends to operate in those ish-y spaces. What makes Nothing stand out is how together everything sounds. Which makes the band’s coming apart all the more difficult for its members and fans.

Done after a decade

Brat Sounds (pronounced like the rude kid and not the tubed meat) became a thing when Max Wikoff joined Cary, Corbin Coonan and Kelly Danen, who have played together since they were known as Dinny Bulca back in 2012. But this winter, Cary will move to Chicago for reasons both musical and personal.

“After 10 years, we're all in different places priority-wise with how much effort we want to put into the band and what we want to get out of it,” he said. “We're all between the spectrum of ‘this is just a way to have fun on the weekends’ and ‘let’s take this seriously and push ourselves and see how far we can take this thing.’”

Cary’s on the “push ourselves” end of things. Of course, life has a way of providing its own pushes. He and his girlfriend have long talked about moving — she really wanted New York, but relationships are about compromise, and thus the Windy City.

With Cary wanting to see what’s next for him musically, the relocation is close enough to friends but far enough from bandmates. It makes for a trickier situation when your friends are your bandmates, but the group made sure to point out on their social-media announcement that the split is “amicable” and one-off shows aren’t out of the question down the line.

Something out of Nothing

For now, they have the new album, which solves one of the problems from way back in their Dinny Bulca days.

“That first album we made together, it was really varied but in a way that was more meandering and, like, 45 minutes long,” Cary recalled. “The criticism we got from that made me want to make songs that are more cohesive, but then I somehow got back to, ‘Let’s put some country songs in there and get weirder with it.’”

The band stayed closer to the path for Nothing while still finding space to wander. A couple tracks are more straightforward punk, others lean poppier with immediately recognizable influences (Cary said he listened to all the Beatles’ albums straight through before starting work on this LP), most would fit nicely in a collection of early Elvis Costello.

But the through line is there, whereas in the past it would’ve been more of a through squiggle. That restraint is the best evidence of the band’s evolution and, ironically, a reason for its expiration.

“Corbin and Max both write songs, too, and my hope is that they start bands after this,” Cary said. “I think I've just been taking up all of the creative bandwidth, so I'm excited to see what they do after this. We can all start bands that kind of fit more of what our ambitions are individually.”

“When I look back, it's so easy to romanticize when we were all 21 and starting out,” he added. “We were so optimistic and naïve. We had the whole world in front of us, but we were inexperienced doofuses also. We just wanted each album to be better than the last one, and I think we've always been able to do that. That's something we did as a team, and I'm proud of that.

“But everybody's got to grow up. And that's what we all did.”

Brat Sounds’ new album is available Oct. 14 on Bandcamp and the usual streaming services. They’ll celebrate with a same-day release show at Cactus Club , and follow it up with shows at Thurman’s 15 on Nov. 12 and a farewell performance tentatively scheduled for Dec. 10 at Linneman’s.