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 rock’s aging facade, it’s been derided by critics for appropriating the music of a culture not its own.
And then there are bands like Fool’s Gold, a big, Los Angeles–based musical mutt whose self-titled eight-song debut rolls Ethiopian soul, Tuareg, Senegalese percussion, tropicalia, sitar-like guitar noodling, and sunny California surf music into one gleeful stew—without coming off as 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 African and Latin ones. But Fool’s Gold isn’t trying to hock a loogie into the ears of purists with that Heinz 57 approach; what most people don’t 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 L.A. to produce an international sound.
“When people talk about African music, they don’t realize that so much African music is influenced by Western music,” Top says. “I think that’s something that gets overlooked too much. So much music is influenced by American music, or is influenced by music outside of [a person’s] 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, you’re hearing James Brown in there.”
Though Fool’s Gold seems to pack disparate sounds and instruments into their music the way a glutton fills his plate at a buffet, international influences have been seeping into even the most structured of bands. Foreign Born—a concurrent indie-rock band featuring Fool’s Gold guitarist/co-founder Lewis Pesacov—has been subtly alluding to a love affair with African sounds since its inception. But while Foreign Born still ultimately sounds like indie rock, Fool’s Gold simultaneously manages to sound like everything at once and nothing in particular.
“In the best-case scenario, Fool’s 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 that’s completely organic,” Top says.