A common piece of praise heaped upon older albums is that they were “ahead of their time” — in other words, they sound like the music being made today. While there is value in that, I think there is also an appeal to albums that sound exactly like the era they were made in and function as a time capsule of what indie music was at the time.
One such album I’ve been obsessed with lately is The Glass Intact by Sarge, a Chicago indie rock band that released a pair of albums in the late-90s and are pretty much forgotten about now. The album was released in 1998 and it has a lot of traits that were popular then: the heavy, melodic pop-punk guitar riffs and frontwoman Elizabeth Elmore’s emotional lyrics and singing put them in the same musical space as some of my favorite 90s bands like Tiger Trap, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney. It’s the kind of straight-forward, meat-and-potatoes indie rock that feels like it has fallen out of favor in the last few years as indie music has become more self-consciously artsy.
When the only older music that gets focused on is what is perceived as relevant to today’s music, bands like Sarge get unfairly tossed to the side. Music doesn’t suddenly go bad like milk: if it was good at the time, it is often still good now. And it’s not like The Glass Intact is an album full of songs about chatting on AIM, beanie babies, and furbies. Elmore’s lyrics touch on subjects that haven’t really changed: relationships, friendship, and being young and sort of aimless.
The most distinctive part of Elmore’s lyrics is that there’s a lot of them. Sarge’s songs are usually fast-paced, and she has a chatty lyrical style that doesn’t shy away from bigger words that may not fit a simple rhyming scheme. They’re very introspective, sometimes resembling a frantic internal dialogue, which paints the picture of Elmore as someone who is very smart and articulate, but possibly has problems overthinking things. The Glass Intact also shows her gift for writing a complete story: the songs actually have a beginning, middle, an end, and Elmore’s open-book anecdotes are consistently engaging.
Elmore’s voice is a fairly unique instrument. It’s high, but powerful and controlled — while some similar-sounding singers can sound thin and get lost in the instrumentation, she sings with authority so her lyrics always rise above the loud guitars. Often, she gets close to speak-singing, which gives Sarge’s songs a conversational quality — part of what makes her such an endearing personality is that it often feels like she’s talking to you through her songs, and it’s the key to why Sarge’s music still feels vital to me, even 15 years after they broke up.
It is tempting to immediately label a forgotten album like The Glass Intact “a lost classic” or something (and admittedly, I did that on Twitter the other day). But discovering it and really falling in love with it has made me wish there was room for older music in the ongoing dialogue that isn’t necessarily “classic,” but is still worth listening to — that instead of resorting to jaded nostalgia or canonizing the same three bands, we could appreciate music that was simply good. The Glass Intact isn’t necessarily hugely influential or innovative, but that doesn’t mean it should just be forgotten about.