Joe August's Sound Is Very "High Fashion"
By Sean Lee
Donning a plaid suit that matches the cotton candy background, Joe August embodies the ethos of his new single “High Fashion” but his outfit reveals that the depth of creativity is merely superficial.
The song is a classic example of the rock ‘n roll formula, combining an over-driven guitar with lyricism better sung in stadiums than analyzed by critics. Unfortunately, this isn’t 1973 and August is no Iggy Pop. Instead, the song which could’ve been a tribute to the artist’s own obvious influences, becomes a lackadaisical repackaging of a song that’s been done countless time by better artists.
To his credit, August utilizes the guitar in a way that pays homage to his predecessors. But unlike other rock/blues revivalists like Jack White (who also uses the same pitch shifter effect that August runs through) or Gary Clark Jr, August demonstrates none of the futuristic innovations that his influences do. The songs opening riff falls victim to rock n roll cliches as the chord progression doesn’t seem to escape the I IV V that got old in 1976 when Bob Seger abandoned it to make the Yacht Rock classic Night Moves.
Even bad instrumentation can be saved by good lyrics, considering Bob Dylan played to his strengths through instrumental simplicity. (“I’m more of a Neil Young type, but Dylan was an icon,” seems like a pretentious line August might say at a cocktail party). But this cannot be said of the Seattle based songwriter.
“Lines are clashing/ Call it high fashion” opens the songwriter’s single and the lyric is indicative of how incohesive the overall lyricism of “High Fashion” truly is. Lines like “Bones are Shaking/ Liberation/ Put on a smile as you walk through the door” are superficial cliches that have been done before. Coldplay’s “God Put a Smile on Your Face” comes immediately to mind and it’s amazing to this listener that August manages to make the pasty English rock outfit sound like Walt Whitman.
Songs about clothes are a tiresome pop cliche in all modern music let alone rock ‘n’ roll. The 1992 viral hit “I’m Too Sexy for my Shirt” by Right Said Fred, Run DMC’s 1986 classic “My Adidas” and Paul McCartney’s 2007 “Vintage Clothes” are few that come immediately to mind. But August’s “High Fashion” contains neither the tongue in cheek confidence, the lyrical complexity, or the overall charm of those songs. Instead “High Fashion” is like dressing a dog in an Armani suit. It’s an ostentatious song dressed in a rock ‘n roll outfit.
If there is one redeeming factor to “High Fashion,” it’s that August’s delivery truly believes what he is singing is worth listening to. And that’s all you need.
This piece is by Sean Lee. Follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leee.