On their eponymous 2009 debut album, L.A.'s Fool's Gold — who play the Troubadour tomorrow — treated the indie-rock mob to a bubbling batch of jammy rock/pop liberally laced with African, Latin and other worldly spices. Refreshingly, the band's simmered stew of non-Western and classic pop morsels didn't taste like overcooked slop.
Their just-released followup Leave No Trace is a pared-down and spaced-out, stomping beast with hooks by the cartload, wicked strutting grooves, surfy atmospherics and head-crookin' Krautrockian synth swathes. It is quite a melting pot, only this time it's sung mostly in English rather than Hebrew, which had featured prominently in singer Luke Top's vocals on the first album.
The Israel-born Top discovered early on that singing in Hebrew felt natural for Fool's Gold.
“This idea of combining your folk nature and Western influences is something I've always been interested in,” he says. “When you hear singers like Mahmoud Ahmed from Ethiopia, some of it does sound like Hebrew in the phrasing, the shape and sound of the words; the way the cantors sing Hebrew has that kind of harsh undertone, too.”
Guitarist Lewis Pesacov's background in “serious” music played a role in the band's bridging of African music and Western pop. At a conservatory in Germany, he studied “the new complexity” — numerous melodic lines played simultaneously — that goes back to Bach, Webern, Schoenberg and Ligeti.
“This relates to African music,” says Pesacov. “When Ligeti went to Africa, he adapted the idea of rhythmic polyphony that African folkloric musicians are doing. Well, I grew up listening to reggae, African and Brazilian music, and I realized that a lot of their guitar music is very polyphonic. It's not exactly a Bach fugue, but it concerns itself with interlocking melodies, a counterpoint melody, rather than a harmonic chord progression with a melody on top of it.”
Fact is, sometimes it's good to not know exactly where a band's coming from, and Fool's Gold's way of warping their myriad sound sources can be thrillingly odd to behold. But their weaving of African and Latin threads into their Western rock has brought the band a bit of critical carping.
“A journalist from England said, 'Why would I listen to you guys when I could listen to real African artists?'” says Pesacov. “But we and the African musicians are coming from such different places. A lot of African musicians love Clapton, for example, they're trying to be like rock guitar players, and they're coming at American blues in such a different way. And that's why it sounds different. Remember, the Brazilian tropicalista musicians of the '70s proudly 'cannibalized' British and American pop music. It's a dialogue between Western and non-Western music.”
“There are similarities and connections between many musics if you dig long and hard enough,” says Top. “I see all music as part of a massive spectrum mixing folk traditions and Western pop and rock. We're involved in a ping-pong dialogue with that world.”
Even so, he says, “You can't escape who you are. We're kids from L.A., we like pop music and we'd be lying to ourselves if we didn't submit to all of our influences. At the end of the day, the goal is to have your own sound. And ours can go anywhere.”
Fool's Gold play at the Troubadour tomorrow, September 29.