Because Fool’s Gold released its self-titled debut in 2009, when the bloom was still on the rose of the Afropop-via-indie-rock moment, the group was lumped in with Vampire Weekend and other trend-chasers. That lumping is unfair, not because Fool’s Gold doesn’t share any similarities with Vampire Weekend, but because Afropop represents only a slice of the band’s global pizza pie. Led by Israeli-Americans Luke Top and Lewis Pesacov, who also plays in Foreign Born, Fool’s Gold play a rambling, elegant hodge-podge of musicals styles out of which you could trace Talking Heads and Orange Juice, as well as African guitar and Latin rhythms.
At times Fool’s Gold debut could be overwhelming, with not nearly enough space between each of its numerous instruments. Nevertheless the band managed to light upon some powerful moments, when the whole contraption managed to fall marvelously into sync. There’s a lot more discipline present on the band’s second album, Leave No Trace, but it’s not clear if that’s an encouraging development. “Wild Window” is an airtight pop song with a jaunty bass line and a slunky guitar melody, recalling the best of 1980s dance rock, but however delightful the tune may be, it’s not nearly as distinctive as anything on the debut album. Title track “Leave No Trace” has the melancholy swoon of a Smiths song; it makes you want to jump around in an oversized sweater and turn your palms to the sky. But, haven’t we heard this before? The problem with these songs isn’t in the execution, it’s the dry technique and the palpable sense of caution. They reminded me –and this is not a favorable comparison — of TV on the Radio at their safest, refining a multiethnic, multicultural stew into something that would work on a Motorola commercial.
Later in the album, though, Fool’s Gold seem to loosen up and let their strangeness shine. It could be only that Top starts singing in Hebrew, something he did a lot of on the debut but curtailed for much of Leave No Trace. “Tel Aviv” has a lot going on — contrapuntal guitar runs, Top’s aching vocals, saxophone garnishes — but the song rollicks and rambles like a gypsy caravan barreling down the highway. Album closer “Lantern” sounds like a classic Motown ballad given the weird L.A. treatment, with an eerie accompaniment of flutes and synths that feels straight out of David Lynch.
It’s helpful to remember that in the period between Fool’s Gold and Leave No Trace, the band abandoned some of its “collective” character by boiling down to a core group of members. Leave No Trace’s disappointing moments are likely the result of growing pains, of a group of talented, diverse musicians settling for the lowest common denominator. Let’s hope this young band continues to focus on what makes it unique, and learns how to better allow its disparate components to coexist, then flourish.