The Deal: L.A. co-op Fool's Gold gets its Afro-beat on.
The Good: "World Music" isn't the same Putumayo-flavored pejorative it used to be. Like fellow travelers Extra Golden or the Ruby Suns (or even some Animal Collective), this L.A.-based co-op of up to a dozen members integrates African instruments, music and rhythms (Congolese, Ethiopian, Eritrean, Kenyan and Malian) with more traditional rock elements (Krautrock and '80s dance) to create an often compelling hybrid. At its best, the collision of cultures is cause for trance-dance abandon; if the fevered polyrhythm and benga guitar of disc-opener "Surprise Hotel" don't move you (literally), you may be comatose or, worse, suffering terminal white person-ness. With the addition of some blaring sax sections, Fool's Gold recalls a vintage 2-Tone aesthetic (more English Beat than Specials), its melodies and riddims crawling under your skin for the duration.
The Bad: The pace never varies from "frenetic" over the eight tracks and 45 minutes; by the relentless two-note riff of "Night Dancing" you're begging for contrast, or just to be put down. A ballad or two (there's plenty in the Afro-beat gene pool), or a song shorter than four minutes and 40 seconds (the briefest track here) would really help. Also: Israeli-born Luke Top sings many lyrics in Hebrew. Fine, we're all worldly adults here, but since Top has lived in the States since the age of three it begs the question: Does that serve the song or the mission statement? (Discuss.)
The Verdict: A promising beginning, but next time more song-craft to go with the upbeat mood and Benetton colors.