Music

Fool's Gold: Leave No Trace

Group follows debut album espousing the wonders of African pop music with sophomore album espousing the wonders of turning African pop music into background party noise.


Fool's Gold

Leave No Trace

Label: IAMSOUND
US release date: 2011-08-16
UK release date: 2011-09-05
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Yet another album where merely pointing out shortcomings feels like drowning a bag of kittens. Ah, well -- it's not like there are a lot of flaws on the second album by this cross-cultural L.A. duo-with-other-guys -- more like not-quite-enoughs.

Fool's Gold's self-titled 2009 debut wasn't re-writing the map in clear-toned American Afro-pop. But it was practiced, well-performed, zestfully propulsive at best, and…well, fun. When they got the right mix of guitar line and nimble rhythm -- in the record's first half, basically -- it was ebullient and damn-near medicinal. And, crucially, there were simply a lot of neat things to listen for.

The songs on Leave No Trace seem to rely from the get-go ("The Dive") on a safe hook instead of on the previous vibe -- one of being carried somewhere you haven't been before on a clear-toned breeze. In short, this means that the songwriting is more conventional, catchy enough but also flaccid, and mixed with an unfortunate background-y sheen.

This isn't to say that Fool's Gold are now Diane Warren, and their conventionalism does come with some well-needed boundaries. The bass-keyboard interplay in "Street Clothes" (the best song here) is quite potent indeed, and singer Luke Top manages to shake his voice all around "Wild Window" without sounding at odds with the song itself (a charmer). In fact, Leave No Trace may well be a more consistent album than the debut, simply because it doesn't lose any pep in its back half like the first one did. The problem is that none of the pep in Leave No Trace is as compelling as the stuff in the first half of the debut.

It's reassuring, though, to note that the duo hasn't sacrificed (too) much instrumental proficiency here, and the players -- led by singer-bassist Top and guitarist Lewis Pesacov -- are generally strong throughout. The drumming is still quite fluid and adept, too, even though the band hasn't had one consistent percussionist. But the obvious instrumental talent seems squandered in places, professional but working in the service of some pretty familiar material. Even Pesacov, left to fill out a lot of space, seems to be reiterating weaker versions of the debut's progressions, just with an extra glisten.

This album's lyrics seem to have drawn a fair bit of complaint from reviewers, and with Top now singing in English instead of Hebrew, the shortcomings are indeed more widely discernible. To me, though, this doesn't matter much. The words are still easy to ignore, and as feeble as a few pop-out lines can be ("It takes a narrow sun to light your narrow world"), they aren't the problem. The problem is what's missing: nimble bass lines that extended out of nowhere are dialed-back; the singing is less conversational. Even the sax, which on the debut could unexpectedly tickle your ears right when you thought the band had run out of hooks, sounds like it's here through obligation. And while Top's singing is still committed, it's less buoyant and less assured.

Still: pretty.

5
Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

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Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

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1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

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​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

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