Fool’s Gold: A 21st Century Global Band
Photo by Jesse Fleming
A lot of bands start out as tight clusters of friends playing focused music—evolving into sprawling configurations, taking on new members and embracing exotic challenges. Then, often, they lose steam.
In the few years since they took shape, Los Angeles’ Fool’s Gold has basically traveled the reverse trajectory. Friends Luke Top and Lewis Pesacov formed the band in 2007. Fueled by their shared love of African music—jazzy Ethiopian dance bands, Malian desert blues and infectious Congolese guitar pop—the band became a revolving-door collective with an ever-changing number of players. (They have never toured with the same lineup twice.) Now, with their sophomore record, Leave No Trace, Fool’s Gold has turned into what singer and bassist Top calls “a closed-door five-piece.”
Despite Fool’s Gold layered production, flashes of dense horn parts, synth-heavy touches and subtle harmonies, in terms of band size and work mode, the less-is-more approach serves them well.
The first record was “pretty loose,” Top says, since it was pieced together bit by bit. Meanwhile, they wrote and recorded Leave No Trace during a three-month period at the start of this year, with the intent of making a “proper record,” he says, adding that the whole process “was pretty tidy.”
The chiming, trebly guitar parts coil and loop (“The Dive”), giving the music its intricate rhythmic latticework and serving as the clearest signpost to the band’s core African influences. Top drapes his vocal phrases in slow and suave triplets, with little ornamental flourishes as he rides a melodic line down to the lower end of his register (“Wild Window”).
On the debut album, Top often sang in Hebrew. (He was born in Israel and came to the United States as a child.) “There’s a certain built-in sense of yearning to singing in Hebrew,” he says. Though he’s singing more in English on the new record, Top employs expressive touches—“innate rhythms and melodies”—that are derived from Hebrew.
If Fool’s Gold’s guitar parts and singing sometimes point toward Africa and the Middle East, then Leave No Trace drops musical breadcrumbs that trace a trail back to the New Romantic and New Wave wing of ‘80s pop.
“We’re kids of the ‘80s,” he says. “If the idea of this band is to include all influences, why not go there?”
You won’t hear many resounding rock guitar chords on the new record. But you won’t miss them, either. Top’s bass lines are the band’s most burly element, giving the songs a muscular heft while propelling and buttressing the rhythms.
With the new cemented five-piece lineup, Fool’s Gold is zeroing in more on an unspoken but specific vision. “It’s allowed us to articulate musical ideas a little more finely,” he says of the new configuration. “It’s like painting with a more precise brush than a broad stroke.”
Top says that he and Pesacov arrived at the newer sound in an intuitive, organic way. “Lewis and I talk about music constantly,” he says. “We’re always on tour; we’re always in the van, but when it came down to writing there wasn’t any discussion.”
When they first started out, Top and his bandmates took some of their cues from recordings; now, they perform with the artists who inspired them. Top points to shared dates with the Malian guitar group Tinariwen as life-changing. “We actually played with them—we collaborated with them,” he says. “Connecting with these [types of] musicians has a profound impact.”
Top and the band are steeped in the rich ping-ponging effect between music from Africa and music from the Americas. But Top says that the layers of history shouldn’t overshadow the energy of the music.
“It’s a deep dialogue,” Top says of the music’s intertwined roots. “It goes back a long way. But we’re not out there as academics. We’re out there as rockers.”
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