From the horses jowls, judge, I damn well hurd Orville Peck neigh and burr it himself, I swears on it!: “Psychedelic outlaw cowboy croons love and loss from the badlands of North America.”
Well, golly, Sub Pop, I never knew a horse could write too. This muss be sum kind o’ Pony, muss be sum sorta showhorse, muss be sum sorta stallion to be so broken up over mares past and passin’ by his tourwagon on the ol’ rodeo trail. The road never felt so empty and lonely and ready to go a-rockin’ ‘n’ a-rollin’ with little cares to them lumps in your beatin’ heart. Sweet baby James, ain’t it sad? Not so, judge, y’see, Peck gets it. He understands that if yer gonna slow ‘er down, get it ‘er done, see ‘er through, yew better know what yew’re holdin’ lest yew start foldin’ and by good golly gosh, I mean goddamn if Peck’s voice ain’t a King-high straight—Presley, Cash, Robbins and Isaak—all right in a row.
Ya see dis cowpoker knows: yew can’t ever capture no “Queen of the Rodeo,” can’t ever transform ‘er intew yer very own empress of the plains; but here come’s Peck, “Ye’re ridden out with nowhere else to go,” he drawls out. Yeah, she’s wild, yeah, she’s free and yeah, she’s rough goin’, all us sorry suckers know it too, damn fools, each and everyone who mistook a Bertha for a sweet Melissa, we jus don’ wan’admit it. But here come’s Peck, he knows how it is—her life is his—so while all us saps just keep bluffin’ on pairs missing one for the trip, he has the blues to put us dumb romantics in our place: “You know the tune so the words don’t matter, beyond this town lies a life much sadder.”
Well hot shit, if Peck is sellin’ the real deal, then this carpetbagger best be believin’ the snake oil; he really did see them last great plain parades on “Buffalo Run.” That cha-ris-ma oozes when the wheels blow out and the trips just don’t come, because even when he loses, he plays for him and his:“I caught you staring at the sun, looking out for number one.” He plays like he ain’t got nothin’ to lose, guitar runnin’ on empty, voice singin’ on fumes, he crashes on the shoulder before strikin’ a barter. Your whole tank, his last cigarillo. Looks like he might just make the rodeo after all. And before you get mad at this black mask rider, “don’t cry, you’re just another boy caught in the rye.”
See, Orville Peck understands the “Old” West. You won’t survive out there if you can’t wheel-and-deal like the rest; so if you’re the sad one, tradin’ it all for the tobacco, then you ain’t got no one to blame beside yourself. No judgment, that’s just how it is, all the tautologies in the world understand: keep on keepin’ on isn’t just advice, it’s a way of life. In that way Peck ain’t just a successor to your down-on-his-luck cowboy, he’s a successor to the steel riders, mirroring Jon Bon Jovi’s penchant for a big-sound style to match the ever bigger sky (no small wonder that’s where the planes fly—they’ve got so much space!), he’s a ranchero who watched the farms swallow the plains, a granger who watched the roads carve up the farms, a trucker who watches the robots fill up the roads. See, Peck understands: one way or another, jingoisms grow stale and ponies grow old.
The pacing, then, tracks anything from sunrise to set; “Dead of Night” to “Kansas” goes from dawn to an early lunch, “Old River” and “Big Sky” feel like solitude at high-noon, “Roses Are Falling” rings in the evening and “Nothing Fades Like the Light,” well, y’know what I mean. But yours truly has indeed ripped records over pacing so slow and dreary; so what gives? Why is Pony so different?
Because Peck’s voice is heavyweight and it punches with all the force of a boxer realizing he’s no longer a contender. A main street route hollowed out to an alleyway beat. One Isley Brother who’s lost his other. It’s like an entire record compilation of “Wicked Game” vibes with some exceptions. One: steel guitar, not your regular cowboy’s instrument of choice, but an effective one no less. Two: this cowpoke’s no doper, he’s been pokin’ ‘round the pies for some colour-inducin” caps. Result: a whole lot of space with which to relax. No need to hurry happiness, no reason to break down and cry, just sit, breathe, watch the funny squiggles, and let the past pass with every cut, every strum, every note.
None need hang up over the big sads: girls, trucks, dogs. Usually pop country records sprinkle beer and the open road as it goes. What’s refreshin’ is that Peck decided to subtract the dog, generalize the relationships and keep the album focused on the sky and the road. It’s country as intended, not as sold. The instrumentation is so simple and the moods so sparse, that what we have here is a record that does more with less—think like what xx did to electropop, but in a different direction—this record returns to an old Fifties cowboy blues record spruced up with Eighties production values: “reverb’ration, reverb’ration, reverb’ration.” But that’s not what makes this big iron such a dead ringer. It’s all that lyricism that I wax to. Pointed, but blunt, abrasive but smooth, old but, well, y’know.
Pony deals together twelve hands with the same message: there’s always a heartbreak on the Badlands horizon, so just sit for a while and admire Pony like the big ol’ highway sky—she’ll never let ya down.
Album Artist: Orville Peck
Label: Sub Pop
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Alt-Country
- “Dead of Night”
- “Winds Change”
- “Turn to Hate”
- “Buffalo Run”
- “Queen of the Rodeo”
- “Kansas (Remembers Me Now)”
- “Old River”
- “Big Sky”
- “Roses Are Falling”
- “Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)”
- “Hope to Die”
- “Nothing Fades Like the Light”