Fialta Channels San Luis Obispo Sunshine and Surf in Smart Synth-Pop

23 Aug

The San Luis Obispo area is a fabulous part of the state, set within a rolling sun-drenched landscape that lies roughly halfway between Northern and Southern California. Residents and visitors alike enjoy relaxing on glistening beaches, exploring the oak-studded foothills, shopping for art and household goods in local shops, or tasting fine wines produced by the growing number of Central Coast vineyards.

In an area this inviting, it’s not surprising to find more and more bands calling San Luis Obispo home. Such is the case with Fialta, which offers melodic California indie pop-rock on their sophomore album, Shadow of a Drought.

The music is sunny and smart — a little surfy, with heavily reverbed guitars, ukulele, layered harmonies, and interesting rhythms. Fialta is comprised of two married couples: Mike Leibovich and Beth Clements, who were the first from the group to settle in the San Luis Obispo area, and David Provenzano and Sara Shotwell, who joined them after a move from the San Francisco Bay Area.

All four individuals are contributing songwriters, vocalists and multi-instrumentalists — which is likely the reason their music is so well done — far from much of the sticky-sweet formula pop world.

One of the standouts on Shadow of a Drought is “Do the Best We Can.” The title track, sort of — “shadow of a drought is mentioned in several of the lines — is anthemic, fuzzy synth-pop. While Clements handles the lead vocals at the start, all four individuals sing the chorus, resulting in the rich harmonies that are a trademark of the group. An acoustic performance of the track is here.

“Another Lonely Heart” is a mid-tempo cut that for some reason reminds me of Hall & Oates — if Hall & Oates were female vocalists. The song features richly harmonized vocals over a slinky synth track that’s backed by a steady beat.

The album opener is “Be Someone,” up-tempo, catchy pop-rock with a cool bass line, guitar stingers, harmonized male vocals, and glockenspiel. Jumping toward the end of the 12-song set, “On the Run” features a stripped-down arrangement with jangly guitar over a sleigh bell rhythm, an intimate vocal (by Sarah, I believe), and warm harmonies.

I can’t end a review of Shadow of a Drought without mentioning “Queen of the Night,” a happy, bounding romp with pounding drums and pumping, arcade-link synths. I’m sure this is a fun song to do live — and the group is touring this summer and fall in support of the album. calls San Luis Obispo the “happiest place in America.” With apologies to Disneyland, which has clearly earned the moniker of “happiest place on earth,” the land of endless summer does inspire an optimism and positive energy that locals embrace. And this upbeat attitude is definitely felt in the music of Fialta.



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