Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

Fool’s Gold is the real thing in world music

December 16, 2009 |  7:28 pm


A residency at the Echo helped the band lock into its strengths while building its fan base.

In April, Fool's Gold, the Afropop-influenced outfit led by singer/bassist Luke Top and guitarist Lewis Pesacov, played a weekly residency at the Echo that burns bright in their memories.

"Those were our best shows ever," Top said on the phone from Eugene, Ore., a stop on the band's current  North American tour with fellow buzz act Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. "We got to design our own bills, our own lighting and DJs. Every week we packed it with our people. It was an amazing awesome dance party."

The residency also spurred Fool's Gold into action. The L.A.-based group, which can swell to include as many as 15 players in concert, acquired a manager in Troubadour booking head Brian Smith and decided to record their long-gestating, self-titled debut album, which was released in September.

Comprising eight warm and sprawling songs, the collection amalgamates Ethiopian folk, Ghanaian Highlife, the Malian desert rock of Tinariwen, roller-skate rink R&B and the early '80s punch of Adam Ant and Duran Duran. Anchoring the brew is Pesacov's squiggly lead guitar lines and Israel native Top's melismatic vocals, nearly all in Hebrew.

"Singing in a foreign language," Top said, "is a personal journey for me. It's allowed me to express my singing in a grander way than before."

Fool's Gold will play a homecoming show at the Echo on Thursday with an eight-piece crew that includes Brazilian/Mexican visual artist Salvador Placencia, Top's Israeli-born childhood friend Amir Kenan (who works as TV and Pop Culture Editor at National Metromix, which, like The Times, is owned by Tribune) and Michael Tapper, ex-drummer of We Are Scientists.

Given the wide breadth of influences and their unique execution, it's hard for Fool's Gold to understand why they're so often compared to Vampire Weekend's brand of "Upper West Side Soweto."

"We're not playing this music because it's the cool thing to do or because it's popular," Top said. "I don't know what trend we belong to. What's the Afro-Hebrew-soul-pop-dance trend? Obviously it'd be much easier to just do a Top 40 thing."

Pesacov will perform Friday night at Spaceland with his other project, Foreign Born, a kind of sister act to Fool's Gold that includes a number of shared members, most notably guitarist Matt Popieluch, who handles vocals for Foreign Born.

Top and Pesacov knew each other as teenagers in L.A. and attended college at San Francisco State, where they met Popieluch. The three have circulated through each other's various bands, though Fool's Gold is the first official collaboration between Top and Pesacov.

Though it's tempting to lump the bands together, there are differences. "Fool's Gold is more into jamming and working songs into a trance," said Pesacov, a classically trained musician who counts composer Gyorgy Ligeti as an inspiration. "Foreign Born is into writing concise pop-rock songs. There's formally a different concern, but certain things bleed over, like guitar riffs and my obsession with percussion."

In addition to African music, both bands filter in a quality that's essentially L.A. Fool's Gold aims to take part in a cultural world dialogue, but the band finds itself also tuned in to one city's temperament. For every sun-kissed guitar riff that sounds like paradise illuminated, there's a dark undertone, the sense that paradise is not always what it seems.

"Los Angeles is so much more than it's allowed to be," Pesacov said. "Everyone talks about West Hollywood, Paris Hilton and Tom Cruise, but it's so much more. It's Echo Park, Montecito Heights, Leimert Park -- people don't think about it. Los Angeles is tropical and desert. It's loneliness and struggle."

You wouldn't know it from their concerts, where the band tries to reach affinity with their audience. "There are no walls between us and them, when everyone's pumped up and dancing," Top said. "You're really experiencing something with a mass of people. It's an inspiring place I try to get to every time."

--Margaret Wappler

Photo credit: Marianne Williams