We should, in these increasingly homogenized times, appreciate unique musical acts when they come along. Most are genre hybrids and Toronto’s FXRRVST (pronounced as forest) is no exception. The duo of Matthew Fuentes and Holly Forrest are close onstage and off and demonstrate a remarkably sympathetic musical point of view for a musical act that only first came together in 2015. Their influences, as varied as vocal duo Tegan and Sara while Fuentes prefers the guitar driven pop rock of Fleetwood Mac, are cleanly transmuted through their individual and collective experiences and personalities into something wholly their own, yet obviously indebted. The nine songs included on their debut release May XXVI will attract fans from an equally wide swath of the music listening spectrum and shows a degree of sophistication we expect from bands and artists who have been working together much longer than two years and change – but it’s clear that FXRRVST aren’t average in any respect.
There’s a slight folky aspect to the band’s sound that recurs throughout the length of the album. A first hint of this comes through on the opener “Road to Nowhere”. It’s easy to hear what we can only assume was the song’s beginnings as a jangling bit of singer/songwriter craft after checking out the steady acoustic strumming underpinning everything, but Fuentes’ electric guitar exerts a lot of influence over its high quality and they utilize a full band arrangement to outstanding effect. The rock idiom placed over a singer/songwriter template quality continues with the album’s second track “Picture Frames”, but this is a much more considered piece with buzzing forward with a moderate amount of energy. It’s an ideal way to begin their debut release – the opener gets things off to a highly energetic start while the second number slows things down, but never too dramatically. The sense of a running order with some thought put into it continues with the superbly sequenced “Drown Me”. This is, arguably, the most commercially minded track on May XXVI and has a particularly effective chorus. Fuentes’ throws down some especially fiery lead guitar lines throughout the song.
After the outright rock attack heard on “Drown Me”, FXRRVST returns us to an acoustic dominated landscape on the folky “Parks”. The tune definitely has a pastoral quality underlined by Forrest’s rich, melody-laden vocal and the song’s shuffle tempo is shaken up with some nice shifts in approach that add needed variety. “Tidal Wave” is a mix of the electric guitar driven tracks with the more singer/songwriter oriented material and has much of the same commercial potential we heard in the earlier “Drown Me” while the light rock strains of “Lovely” are highlighted with some splashes of near country guitar. This interesting fusion of quasi Americana musical musings with angular, atmospheric guitar lines strikes a darker note than earlier on the song “Safe House”, but the duo never lets their presentation take on a despairing air that might put off listeners. The penultimate track “June 8th” serves up some interesting sounds and variations of tempo within a melodic and mid-tempo sway. The electric guitar and drumming do an excellent job of framing the song along with occasional contributions from keyboards. It’s one of the more challenging tracks on the album, but it has some of the same potential for commercial appeal that we’ve heard scattered across the release. “Roofs” ends May XXVI on an emphatic note that posts a notice to anyone interested this is a duo with the intention of making music together for a long time to come – it’s one of the most creative numbers on the album thanks to an arrangement with some spectacular turns. Based on the outstanding quality of this first release, we can only assume that the duo will only improve further with additional performances and releases. If that’s the case, this fine release is just the beginning for Holly Forrest and Matthew Fuentes.