According to Los Angeles-based collective Fool’s Gold, “[They] are not an Afrobeat band. [They] play African music.” After their latest release, Leave No Trace, which fluidly incorporates New Wave influences and traditionally popular song structures, that designation might do Fool’s Gold a disservice. With their 2009 self-titled debut, the band established themselves as authentically African compared to other Afrobeat-inspired bands, with Malian polyrhythms and instruments like Egyptian tambourines and Djembe drums. However, from the fuzzy C86 drums opening “The Dive”, it’s clear the band’s sophomore album is a departure. On Leave No Trace, Fool’s Gold whittles the usual 12-15 band members down to five, which tightens and improves the band’s arrangements, even if it means compromising its adherence to West African music.
An obvious difference between this album and the last is that Top sings mostly in English instead of Hebrew (except for “Tel Aviv”, which opens with Hebrew against understated organs and sunny arpeggios). Since Hebrew is such a musical language, the harmony between Top’s lyrics and the arrangements and instrumentation on Fool’s Gold gets lost in translation; for example, “No, you have not ruined me/Despite your best efforts” sounds awkwardly pedestrian sung to the brassy beat of “Wild Window”. Fortunately, the lyrics usually take a backseat to each song’s myriad elements. “Street Clothes”, arguably the most complex song on the album, introduces a saxophone solo before Top’s quavering howl, which builds over fat bass lines to a chaotic, glorious apex that suddenly softens into prog-y drums to close out the song.
Just as suddenly, the title track begins with bittersweet guitars, which combined with Top’s lush tenor sounds straight off of The Smiths. The song ushers in “Balmy”, with its Algerian beat which sways like a palm tree over romantic ’80s synths, and “Narrow Sun”, which starts slow before kicking into emphatic horns and Top’s David Byrne-esque yelps on the breakdown. The album ends with “Lantern”, a classic, slow-burning ballad. Leave No Trace exemplifies Fool’s Gold’s versatility, a trend that will hopefully continue on future albums.
Essential Tracks: “Wild Window”, “Narrow Sun”