Nine songs hits just the right note for FXRRVST’s debut studio release – it makes a more substantial statement than an EP could have while still reflecting one of their key strengths for not overstating their talents or aims. Their first album May XXVI is a thoughtful collection of tracks with a couple of critical influences vying for supremacy – Holly Forrest’s influences like Tegan and Sara are placed squarely against the guitar driven pop hooks and alternative rock flourishes that her partner Matthew Fuentes brings into play. Some might think it’s an incongruous match, but each of these songs proves the opposite to a greater or lesser degree. The Toronto duo doesn’t allow their indie status to stand as some sort of obstacle preventing them from presenting a polished, professional product – May XXVI is every bit the sort of high gloss release you’d expect from a major act and the songs are correctly framed by the production rather than botched.
“Road to Nowhere” shows the tandem’s mastery of solid songwriting fundamentals as well as their ability to shake those up a little without sending the song off course. Forrest is a talented singer whose ranges becomes more and more apparent with each new song on May XXVI, but the opener makes the best possible impression thanks to her blend of emotional depth alongside technical excellence along with the superb lyrics that could have, perhaps, risked cliché, but never come close. “Picture Frames”, likewise, holds the potential to lapse into self-indulgence and cliché, but Forrest’s control as a writer prevents this from ever coming to pass. The same control extends to the musical arrangement and, despite a more deliberate tempo than we heard on the first song, his guitar contributions to “Picture Frames” are more dramatic and, ultimately, meaningful. “Drown Me”, however, gives his six string room to fly freer than anywhere else on May XXVI and Fuentes doesn’t disappoint. His lead work near the song’s conclusion is particularly inflamed. The chorus is strong, but Forrest’s paint peeling wail on the payoff line will grab all but the deadest inside. This is a song surging with vitality and life.
“Tidal Wave” is one of the most all-around evocative pieces of writing featured on May XXVI. Fuentes’ guitar work avoids rock posturing here in favor of more melodic and atmospheric embellishments and the solid musical base underpinning everything he does enhances this tune, arguably, more than any other on the album. “Safe House” is one of the album’s shorter numbers and the condensed lyrical qualities of both the music and words alike bring this closer to pure performed poetry than any other song on May XXVI. There’s the same kind of focus guiding the climatic number “Roofs” and a wandering imagination that gives them the courage to incorporate a handful of different musical feels into a relatively stripped down framework and never make it feel cluttered or overwrought. “Roofs”, in some ways, sums up all of their best across the board qualities and closes things on a clearly stated note. May XXVI is one of the most formidable debuts in recent memory and that’s doubly impressive considering how the album never announces itself in a chest-thumping sort of way. Instead, this is a subtle and beguiling experience, drawing you deeper in with each new song, until you find yourself fully immersed.