Orville Peck – Pony (2019)

Orville Peck has caused quite a stir with his impressively curated queer country image, and the release of his debut album Pony coupled with the swirling mystery of his anonymity makes for a striking first impression, even before his rich country music has been heard.

Song Ranking

1. Kansas (Remembers Me Now)
2. Dead of Night
3. Roses Are Falling
4. Old River
5. Hope To Die
6. Turn To Hate
7. Take You Back
8. Queen Of The Rodeo
9. Winds Change
10. Buffalo Run
11. Nothing Fades Like The Light
12. Big Sky

The success of a debut album for me is gauged by the presence of a clear and recogniseable aesthetic, and that is where I believe Pony excels. Peck’s queer and vastly American country aesthetic is instantly noticeable even without the inclusion of well thought out lyrics. There is a musical confidence in the album that asserts without words that Peck is clearly aware of his references and influences. Right out of the gate, Dead of Night is a simple ballad that highlights vocally Peck’s ability to flit between a deep country twang to a light falsetto reminiscent of Roy Orbison. At times, the lower vocals can sound like a shaky Elvis impersonation, and Pony has been criticised by some critics for being too ‘pastiche’ in regards to both the arrangements and the vocals. Nethertheless, success occurs when Peck balances the use of both his low and high registers with ease; this alone is worth giving Pony a listen.

Drag culture is a major influence throughout Pony, and the most clear example of this lyrically is in Queen of the Rodeo. Yet this parody-esque influence clearly extends further throughout the musical composition too. Whistles, whip cracks, and hollers add a delightfully camp energy to Take You Back, and the crooning vocal lines in Roses Are Falling definitely brought a big smile to my face. Now when I say ‘parody’ I am not referring to an SNL-type mockery of country music with gut busting laughs. Moreso I am referring to how Peck, much like how drag is presented, reflects back a seemingly heterosexual world to the listener in a ‘funhouse mirror’ kind of way. The success of this kind of parody can be attributed to Peck’s extensive knowledge and adoration of the country genre.

Peck’s use of chords throughout Pony rarely strays too far from the expected, and the use of four chord patterns can get a little stagnant at times. However, Kansas manages to break free from the expected with a lilting 6/8 feel combined with an interesting harmonic rhythm that keeps us guessing. To top it off, the song fades to a heavy crackle in the outro to a surprising degree of success. To me it is a wonderful use of electronics that sells the mysterious world of yesteryear that Orville is painting here.

As one of the first singles to introduce the artist’s sound to the world, Big Sky works. But in a lineup of sombre tracks it doesn’t stand out enough for me. There is an attempt to emulate the vast expanse of a blue country sky through the use of airy backing vocals, but the pervasive and repetitive use of low notes in the vocal melody cancels out the sweeter moments and turns the track into a bit of a dirge.

In conclusion, the truth of the matter is that this album is fun. As a listener I feel that you really get a sense that the artist is having a blast even throughout the lonely and sombre country melodies. That being said there is definite room for improvement – The album does contain arguable ‘filler’ tracks, and often the line between ‘deliberately cheap’ and ‘actually cheap’ remains blurred. However, this makes me eager to hear what is next for the singer and, as Orville Peck would probably testify to, the fantastic country legend Dolly did famously say:

 ‘It takes a lot of money talent to look sound this cheap.’

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