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Bands break up all the time, in all sorts of ways and for all sorts of reasons. I like when bands break up loudly: when they play farewell shows, release farewell CDs and let their fans know they’re grateful. Distant is Sarge’s farewell CD or, as lead vocalist/songwriter Elizabeth Elmore puts it in the liner notes, “sort of our own personal scrapbook.” And it works nicely, both as one final shot of their music for fans and as an introduction for listeners who hadn’t “discovered” Sarge yet.

Sarge plays upbeat pop/rock, in a pretty straightforward manner. The music itself isn’t especially unique, though it does fit the songs well. What makes Sarge shine above other bands treading similar territory is, quite simply, how great Elizabeth Elmore’s songs are. She writes about human behavior in a way that seems personal and revealing but is still universal. Plus she has a beautiful voice.

Distant isn’t a greatest hits album, a live album or a conventional studio album, but a little bit of all of these. It consists of three “demos,” six live songs, three covers and two new, mainly acoustic songs. It’s a bunch of random songs thrown together, yet it feels like a cohesive album.

So many of the songs here deal with heartbreak and relationships dissolving that I’d think it was put together as a commentary on the band’s breakup, if I hadn’t heard their music enough to know that this is common lyrical ground for Sarge. In general their songs deal with love and breakups and human relationships. Elmore has a really astute pen; she writes these accurate, emotionally wrenching portraits of how people behave towards each other. And then she sets them to catchy melodies and flying guitars, and they rock.

The live songs here rock especially hard. They have a raw energy that’s missing from some of the studio tracks. Yet all of the songs here have great emotional power, from the quieter ballads to the more rough rock songs. And the new “demos” are as good as any of their older songs. Even the silly cover songs are pretty emotionally affecting. It’s quite a feat to take slick corporate pop like Wham’s “Last Christmas” and make it moving, but moving listeners is what Sarge does best. Their music is heartbreaking stuff, but not exhaustingly depressing. It’s delivered with a lot of fun and energy. That quality and how articulately Elmore writes and sings about how human beings relate to each other make Sarge’s music something that will last even though they’ve split.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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