Upon releasing their self-titled debut, founding member Luke Top of the 10-piece Fool’s Gold told Pitchfork media in an interview that he didn’t feel any other band in America was “drawing from so many different sources at the moment, in terms of incorporating African styles into pop music.” While Top’s statement was a bold one, it wasn’t necessarily incorrect. After all, Fool’s Gold debut was a lush, meditative offer that showcased their ability to meld various African styles with loose, but skillful pop sensibilities. It was a paced and balance record that delivered both the upbeat fervor of Ghanaian highlife or Congolese soukous and the soft expansive guitar wails of Saharan blues. Top’s flexible vocal delivery, singing in both English and Hebrew, along with a heavy dose of breezy, Los Angeles folk-pop undercutting throughout the album made Fool’s Gold’s debut a largely unique offering that resisted location or easy definition with the greatest of ease.
On their sophomore release, Leave No Trace, the band (now a five-piece) continues to drive forward with their natural inclination towards integrating those African styles, sounds and rhythms with a catchy pop undertone. The album opener, “The Dive”, assures us of that by jumping into the frenzy with multitude of percussive instruments creating a foundation for shrilling guitar patterns. With a dexterous restrain, the ten piece playfully packs it altogether and maintains a mostly traditional western pop structure throughout the track.
Later on the album the band continues this trend. “Tel Aviv“ offers high-end guitars locked into the cyclical groove that riffs off the track’s gorgeous, wandering melody as Top sings verses in both English and Hebrew. As the song climaxes, the brass comes in along with added percussions, jangling bells and various other un-named instruments for a controlled cacophony of upbeat sound. “Mammal,” the following song maintains this energy with a poly-rhythmic foundation straight out of a soukous handbook and only slightly lets up for the echoing chorus sounding maybe what Brian Wilson and company would’ve come up with if they spent time recording on the coast of West Africa. This is followed by the lighthearted “Bark and Bite,” which may be their most unabashedly clear rendition of the soukous style with its convulsive percussion and reeling cyclical guitar lines. Somebody call Papa Wemba!
Elsewhere the group lets their pop tendencies take the spotlight by allowing the girth of their instrumentation construct intricate mountains of sound under the pretext of exploration. “Wild Windows” maintains the tonality and production elements that augment their use of African styles to create an airy pop tune uniquely underscored by the use of a wheezy synthesizer. In the following track, “Street Clothes,” the synthesizer returns, driving the song along with more crunching guitars and a emphasized bass. Proving to be one of Fool’s Gold most expansive and experimental tunes yet, “Street Clothes” erupts in the second half with 80’s, Bowie Berlin-era horns before suddenly muting all the chaos for the final 30 seconds as if someone had switch the frequency to AM. Here Fool’s Gold sounds more like East Coast worldly peers Yeasayer with varied results.
Throughout Leave No Trace, Fool’s Gold has successfully proven to have expanded their sound with an upbeat fervor. However, what is lost on the new album is the mid-tempo serenades of their Touareg reinterpretations. Songs off their debut like “Nadine” and Ha Dvash” showcased their ability to let the music breathe when it needed to despite the varied ability to use an eclectic array of instruments and sounds. For better or worse, Leave No Trace truly has headed south from the Saharan tribal rhythms and East African sounds that characterized a large part of their debut. Instead, the ten-piece has chosen the more classic, driving sounds from a fading golden era of West Africa. Fool’s Gold’s sound is still very much largely intact here but the unremitting drive of Leave No Trace may be a bit off-putting to some listeners. Regardless, this sophomore is a sweaty, blissful affair that in many ways trumps their debut in production and the impressive intricacies that tightly lets loose across each track.