For everything Vampire Weekend have given to popular culture – a new love for buttoned-down shirts, an increase in sales of Ralph Lauren, a deeper insight into English grammar and roof architecture – they have, through no direct fault of their own, made being influenced by African music almost a negative. Critics especially are sceptical of their motives and authenticity, questioning whether this cherry-picking of another culture isn’t just a way of adding colour to an otherwise fairly simple rock pallete.
It’s this slightly unnecessary argument that hovers over the debut album by LA-based 12-piece (!), Fool’s Gold. Each of the eight tracks feature a nod to African musical culture, be it the rattling percussion, sunny guitar lines or use of assorted drums such as the djembe. Curiously, lead singer Luke Top performs all the songs in Hebrew, creating a strange clash of sounds that begins to work better as the album progresses.
In fact much of this debut improves as it goes on. Despite starting off like the Coco Pops jingle, opener Surprise Hotel has little to recommend it, its recurring percussive riff ambling on aimlessly. Nadine picks up the pace, with horn blasts peppering a racing groove that becomes hypnotic as opposed to meandering. Ha Dvash is one of a handful of tracks to make more than a slight nod in the direction of Talking Heads, complete with tightly-strung guitar riffs and even the odd David Byrne inflection in Top’s slightly strangled croon.
Elsewhere, Poseidon is a definite highlight. Building from a loping groove it slowly grows to take in group vocals, another lone guitar line that crawls through the song like a spider and a chorus you can sing along to despite the language barrier. It also appears in remix form, Sizzla turning into a dubby, urgent dance floor monster.
Lead songwriter and guitarist Lewis Pesacov has more reason to be miffed then others over accusations of some kind of African redux. Having already made two albums of African-influenced music with his other band Foreign Born, this new project is hardly a bandwagon-shaped whim. Instead, Fool’s Gold, the album, has been made with genuine passion and a desire to pay homage to something its creators clearly love.