White American pop musicians recent fascination with African music has been the subject of heated debate. Even as Vampire Weekend continues to grow in popularity for a sound that fans feel is a fresh coat of paint on indie rocks aging facade, so they have been derided by critics for appropriating the music of a culture not its own.
And then there are bands like Fools Gold, a big, Los Angeles-based musical mutt whose self-titled, eight-song debut manages to roll Ethiopian soul, Tuareg, Senegalese percussion, tropicalia, sitar-like guitar noodling and sunny California surf music into one gleeful stew without coming off like a band with an identity crisis. To add to the confusion, Israel-born frontman Luke Top sings mostly in Hebrew, though klezmer and Middle Eastern influences take a backseat to the bands African and Latin ones. But Fools Gold isnt deliberately trying to hock a loogie into the ears of purists with that Heinz 57 approach; what most people dont realize, Top explains, is that this cross-cultural dialogue existed long before he or his peers in Vampire Weekend were born. It makes sense for a band from an international city like LA to produce an international sound.
When people talk about African music, they dont realize that so much African music is influenced by Western music, Top says. I think thats something that gets overlooked too much. So much music is influenced by American music, or is influenced by music outside of [a persons] immediate environment. If you listen to, for instance, Tinariwen, who are a Tuareg desert blues group, their style is very much informed by, like, Jimi Hendrix. And if you hear Mahmoud Ahmed, who is an Ethiopian soul singer, youre hearing James Brown in there.
Though Fools Gold seems to pack disparate sounds and instruments into their music like a glutton fills his plate at a buffet, international influences have been seeping into even the most structured of bands. Foreign Born Fools Gold guitarist and co-founder Lewis Pesacov an indie rock band that predates Fools Gold has been subtly alluding to a love affair with African sounds since its inception. But while Foreign Born still ultimately sounds like indie rock, Fools Gold simultaneously manages to sound like everything at once and nothing in particular.
In the best case scenario, Fools Gold is the ideal channel for so many of our influences to just seep out of our subconscious and enter into the world in a way thats completely organic, Top says. With this open, unrestricted approach to songwriting, Top and Pesacov have unearthed something truly valuable: a fresh, unusual sound thats unpretentious, welcoming and very, very catchy. Were deeply in love with this music, Top says, and I think weve found a way to filter it through our systems at this point to where it feels like a totally natural thing. SARA BRICKNER
Sat., Dec. 5, 8 p.m., 2009