Fool’s Gold – Leave No Trace

January 01, 1970



Since the self-titled 2009 debut, polyglot multinational
Fool’s Gold has streamlined from a rough-dozen players to a core of five,
shifted its main lyrical language from Hebrew to English, and tested its desert
blues chops in a tour with Tinariwen. The result, depending on how you look at it,
is either conventional indie pop songs criss-crossed with interlocking
Afro-Caribbean guitar lines, or polyrhythmic African jams that just happen to
be slathered over with pop. Leave No
, then, is an interesting hybrid, not without charm, but certainly not
without heavily hyped contemporaries either (i.e., Vampire Weekend, Ruby Suns,


Without getting into a long argument about authenticity and
cultural imperialism, let’s just note that none of the band’s five current members is African, and that their cross-continental
amalgamation is considerably more accessible and conflict-free than the source
material. Leave No Trace might remind
you of the way that certain latter-day new wave bands latched onto the reggae
phenomenon in the early 1980s, transforming a music of struggle and suffering
into catchy, syncopated pop.


The African-ness in Fool’s Gold comes primarily from the
guitars, generally two at a time, bathed in tropical, mid-range warmth, and
engaged in complicated, overlapping interplay. At least one of these guitars is
manned by Lewis Pesacov, the group’s founder and leader, whose love and
knowledge of African styles (from a variety of countries – Mali, Ghana,
Ethiopia, the Congo, etc.)
shines through in cuts like “The Dive,” “Wild Window” and, especially, “Bark
and Blue.” He is backed by an exceptionally able rhythm section – bass player (and
singer, more on this later) Luke Top and drummer Garrett Ray – who bring a bit
of American-style funk in through the side. In “Wild Window,” Pesacov enters a
dialogue with Top, his guitar calling, the bass responding, the two parts
hooking into one another so that the measure never seems to end, but only rolls
over giddily into the next bar.


On the new wave-ish pop side of things, there is a good bit
of synthesizer, most prominent in island breezed “Balmy” which breaks its
cadence of syncopated hand drums, its aching, pining runs of guitar, for a very
Cure-ish interval near the end. “Street Clothes,” too, makes extensive use of
keyboards, their tones stretched and altered in wah-distorted funk patterns.


Yet the very most pop element of Fool’s Gold’s sound is the
singing.  Israeli-born Luke Top sang in
Hebrew on the first album. Here he sticks to English (except, briefly, on “Tel
Aviv”). This, unfortunately, reveals the content of the lyrics, which are
nothing special. Yet even beyond the conventional sentiments conveyed here,
Top’s voice itself grounds the songs in familiar indie pop. He sings well
enough, balanced casually between the slick and the rough, a bit of saxophone-ish
abrasion teasing the way he stretches syllables across florid multiple notes. He
sounds somewhat like Peter Gabriel, a swallowed growl, a buried rasp in even
his most soaring runs. Still, there is nothing particularly African about the
way he sings and when he comes in over Fool’s Gold’s intricate mesh of
instruments, the effect is to immediately squash down the complexities and turn
towards Top 40 romanticism. “Leave No Trace” pushes this dynamic the furthest,
stuffing all of Fool’s Gold’s uniqueness into a plain, if well-made container.
But other cuts,  even  lovely “Balmy,” tamp down their oddities the
minute the singing starts. 


With the debut, the main argument against Fool’s Gold seemed
to be that they were appropriating too much African influence, sounds they
didn’t have a right to, into what was primarily pop. With Leave No Trace, I’d say they’ve gone too far the other way,
eliminating the eccentricities and exoticisms that made them interesting. You
can write all day about the ins and outs of cultural imperialism, but the
problem here is that there’s not enough of it.


DOWNLOAD: “The Dive”, “Wild Window”, “Bark and Blue” JENNIFER KELLY

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