If Robert Smith, the Cure’s lead singer, wrote songs from his happy place, the result might sound something like L.A.-based Fool’s Gold’s sophomore album, Leave No Trace: outwardly sunny guitar licks, the occasional detour into instrumental segments, a noticeable synth presence and that deep-but-nasal quality of Smith’s vocals. But Smith’s happy music would lack that which fuels so much of Fool’s Gold’s sound and personality: the global span of its influences, from African drum music to L.A. indie rock to a whole resumé of international genres on which co-frontman Lewis Pesacov studied and was raised. The band has both nurtured and fought the associations that come with Afro-indie-pop; Smith-like lead singer Luke Top draws attention to the band’s global perspective by singing both in Hebrew and in English, and he’s quick to reference obscure musical genres like soukous music and Touareg desert blues when citing influences, but the band bemoans comparisons to other African-inspired indie rock groups, most notably Vampire Weekend.
The way Pesacov and Top see it, similarities between Fool’s Gold and Vampire Weekend are purely coincidental and not entirely accurate. Raised on world music and—at least in Pesacov’s case—learned in classical theory and composition, the frontmen see their blend of American indie rock with global sounds as a natural expression of their roots and tastes. But Fool’s Gold does sound like Vampire Weekend. The similarities are maybe shallow but also glaring from the first track on Leave No Trace, “The Dive,” which opens with a jangle of drums and bells alongside a chirpy guitar lick—general but applicable qualities of Vampire Weekend tunes. Maybe Vampire Weekend is African-inspired indie rock and Fool’s Gold is indie rock-inspired Afro-pop, but it’s hard to deny their similarities.
To Fool’s Gold’s credit, the bandmates are accomplished musicians capable of cohesively fusing a host of different sounds into air-tight drum beats, quick and clean guitar melodies, and woozy synth blips. They have a tendency to lapse into jam band-style organized chaos, allowing the instrumentalists to take center stage in songs like “Bark And Bite.” While Top wails a refrain, the guitar picks up speed and noodles away in sync with a saxophone, allowing the drummers to patter a collection of different drums in upbeat harmony. Since Fool’s Gold’s 2009 debut LP, the band has whittled down its membership from around a dozen musicians to just five, allowing the band to maintain tight control and unity over instrumental digressions.
While Fool’s Gold’s debut featured lots of Hebrew lyrics, on Leave No Trace Top scales back the use of his native tongue, occasionally gliding between languages on songs like “Tel Aviv.” Even so, Top isn’t one for articulation, so often his lyrics are hard to decipher; however, the sunny melodic mood is more important than the words on this late summer release.