Charcoal is the impressive debut from the Champaign, IL, punk-pop trio, Sarge. Singer and guitar player Elizabeth Elmore's honest, true-to-life lyrics reflect the pain, frustration, and anger experienced in relationships, without resorting to cliches. Her sweet-sounding vocals give the songs an innocent quality that almost masks the dark side of her lyrics. This, combined with fast, high-energy music, is why Sarge has been compared to bands such as Sleater-Kinney, Heavenly, and Team Dresch. The album's single, "Dear Josie, Love Robyn," starts out as a quiet "Dear John" letter but then unleashes into an angry tirade directed at a boyfriend who squashed her self-confidence. She realizes she deserves more so she's leaving him and telling him why. The band's driving, hook-laden sound reinforces the intensity of the lyrics. At the other end of the spectrum, "Another Gear Uncaught" is an acoustic number recorded and mixed on a four-track. Elmore's pure vocals over her solo guitar almost distract the listener from the sobering lyrics that describe a suicide attempt. Although the album was recorded on a limited budget and the production quality is not the best, Sarge's songwriting strength and pure punk-pop energy come through.
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AllMusic Review by Tracy Frey