Almost thirty years ago, Sub Pop Records went a bit out on a limb, and signed a young Texan who went by the name Reverend Horton Heat. At the time, it seemed like an odd move, but once the album dropped, it was clear they were on to something, and in many ways ahead of everyone else. You can’t compare Heat and Orville Peck much, but where their music both calls home has to be in a place who sees them for more than how they appear. With his debut Pony, Orville Peck is definitely doing something different on a label brave enough to release his music. Though the music here definitely has country elements, it’s so much further and more crafted than a typical country song. In many ways, the music that Peck makes is the truest form of a cowboy. A rebel on the outskirts of society, covering lovers and the disenfranchised one twangy fringe soaked note at a time.
The opener “Dead of Night” is a dead ringer for how the album plays out. Soaked in country tone, the song has elements of shoegaze and dissonant pop, Peck’s vocals are the standout here. It’s a balladeer’s version of what country music can sound like, with Peck crooning over the top of a tremelo heavy guitar that comes off closer to a torch song than the pop drenched version of what country music has become. Things don’t start to pick up until “Turn to Hate,” there are moments where you are reminded of electro-pop from the eighties in how Peck structures his songs. It’s laid out to look like country, but this isn’t a country song that you’re used to.
The album is exactly that, a reinterpretation of what a genre can be. “Buffalo Run” is really eighties alt-rock mixed with post-punk packaged within this collection of songs. “Queen of the Rodeo” is closer to synth pop than any country music you’ve heard before, and “Hope to Die” is more set up like a track penned by The Smiths. It’s different yet it’s also exactly what country music has always been, a new interpretation of what the genre could be played by the character who wrote it. There are straight country songs as well here. “Roses Are Falling” has its toes in country music and “Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)” plays out like a song you’d hear on an album by Johnny Cash. But for the most part, Pony isn’t what you think it’s going to be, and that’s what makes it so interesting.
You can stream Pony on all streaming sites, you can purchase it in all digital music stores, or you can purchase it on compact disc or vinyl directly from Sub Pop Records. Orville Peck is on tour starting April 11 in Ottawa, Canada at Dominion Tavern until July 18 in Sudbury, Canada at River & Sky Festival. A complete list of his upcoming appearances can be accessed here.
Image Credits: Photo by Carlos Santolalla.