Album Review – Orville Peck’s “Pony”
The allure of the man behind the mask making music under the name Orville Peck has become the talk of much of independent country music and Americana lately, with critics and fans alike swooning over his mod-styled moody music mixed with Western imagery. Most certainly what this man is doing is unique, and in moments it is easy to find appeal in the supple melodies that can compel listeners regardless of sensibility or musical taste. But sorry folks, I’m sitting this one out.
The first rule of any artistic criticism is that if it appeals to you, that’s all that matters, and it’s easy to understand why some, if not many are finding appeal in Orville Peck’s debut album Pony. But the patent truth is this music has very little to do with country beyond the fringe mask and cowboy hat of its proprietor, and some window dressing-like references to Western culture included in the lyrics. Instead what Orville Peck more resembles is a re-imagining of The Smiths and solo era Morrissey in vocal style, complimented by sparse compositions featuring dream pop guitar. Orville Peck is a retro New Wave project in Lone Ranger attire that on a sonic ruler would be closer to the Pet Shop Boys than Charley Pride.
In a word, Orville Peck is a gimmick. Granted, it’s a pretty good gimmick for what it is, and it’s well-formed in the sense that Peck pulls off what he sets out to accomplish. And just because it’s not country doesn’t mean it’s bad. Taken simply as music, Pony is quite bewitching and entertaining, and even though the actual country elements are fleeting and mild, the mod and subtle surf influences are close cousins to country, while the retro approach to the record is something that old schoolers that often make up classic country fandom can relate to. But the appeal of Pony lies in the awakening early 90’s New Wave nostalgia in Gen X’ers and their progeny, not an authentic expression of country modes, sounds, or even themes. Similar to Lil Nas X, Orville Peck thinks if he wears a Stetson and makes references to cowboy shit, that’s country enough for today’s monogenre audience. And unfortunately, he’s mostly right.
Orville Peck is a pseudonym for a Toronto-based Canadian drummer name Daniel Pitout from an indie rock/punk band called Nü Sensae from Vancouver. He also happens to be gay, which he can’t wait to tell the press about, and the press can’t wait to harp on as we continue to put identity above everything else in music today, with the “who” now being the most important element to music as opposed to the “what.” None of these things should preclude Orville Peck from being considered as country, or making country music if he so chooses. Both Canadians and LGBTQ members are frankly making some of the best country music these days. But Orville Peck is not one of them, not because it’s not good as music, but because it’s not authentic as country.
If you stumbled upon this record as an indie rock selection, you’d feel surprised and delighted to find the few country elements that emerge in some of the tracks, just like you do when rock artists like John Mayer or Bruce Springsteen mix in some country style, or side projects from punk artists such as The Knitters hit the shelves. However if Pony and Orville Peck were presented authentically for what they actually were—which is a retro New Wave indie rock project—nobody would be paying attention. Call it country (like Lil Nas X did), and you can compel people to talk and listen, while also cutting in line in front of the people making actual country music because of the juicy media narratives.
Authenticity in country can be a very tiring argument. Everyone has the right to make country music, as long as it’s true in their hearts. It’s not that you have to be from a ranch in Texas to sing country, but you do have to show dedication to the music for it to come across as honest, sincere, and believable. With a project like this, you need to have “buy in” from the audience. But with Orville Peck, the entire thing is incredibly transparent. He’s doing a bit. It’s not a bad bit, but it’s a bit. And why waste your time on a bit when you can imbibe in the real deal?
The other problem with Orville Peck and Pony is it’s not as original as many are making it out to be. It may be original to people who’ve never heard of an act like Brent Amaker and the Rodeo, who were wearing masks and mixing David Bowie influences in with mod country style since 2005. Their album Year of the Dragon from 2013 is one of the greatest forgotten classics of underground country, and is the antidote to an album like Pony, even though nobody will pay attention to it because it’s not imbued with as many natural politically-driven media narratives as an act like Orville Peck.
Another artist to compare Orville Peck to is Canadian indie rocker turned classic country crooner Daniel Romano. We were all initially wooed by his stunning re-creation of the Countrypolitan era, even though in that instance as well, Saving Country Music cautioned how the lack of authenticity behind the project could turn out poorly. Sure enough, Daniel eventually let all country fans know how we were all morons for liking his music un-ironically as he moved on to making retro electronica, bad mouthing the genre and its fans on the way out the door. Ryan Adams pulled a similar move, as have others. These guys broke a lot of hearts of fans who’d defended them, and these fans just turned out to be props as part of these artists’ art projects. We don’t know if Orville Peck will pull a similar maneuver, but when irony and imagery precede the actual music, it’s something fair to be on guard for.
All that said, the natural appeal in Pony is pretty obvious and undeniable. The chorus of the opening number “Dead of Night” is as voluptuous and enthralling as you will find in all of music. “Turn To Hate” would have been an alternative rock anthem if it had been released two or three decades ago. Most artists would struggle to set the mood that Pony pulls off, or the singing range that Orville Peck proves he’s capable of in these compositions, underpinning his vocal parts with strength, consistency, and confidence. Even those looking sideways at this guy in his fringe mask must admit he can sing, and that his music is able to awake emotions, which is the the greatest asset to any music regardless of style.
But in truth, the appeal of Orville Peck and Pony is pretty thin when you really dig into the record, and is based mostly off a few powerful songs like “Dead of Night” as opposed to the consistent appeal throughout the record. Musicianship is almost non-existent, instead relying on excessive reverb and faraway sound texturing to make the music sound interesting, and the writing is pretty thin in places, repeating lines or words over and over. The song “Roses Are Falling” veers pretty close to being a ripoff of the “Sleep Walk” riff, once again underscoring this record is more interpretive than original. Later in the album there are a couple of songs that sound more country than the rest of the material, but that might be more of a symptom that the first part of the record doesn’t sound country at all aside from a 15-second banjo part awkwardly pasted at the end of “Dead of Night” as a token.
And please don’t think these are the pointed opinions of a closed-minded purist just because Peck happens to be gay, or is trying to do something unique in the country space, or the imagery is startling to the stuffy and closed-minded conservative perspective that people love to assign to the traditional fans of country. If this was the case, Trixie Mattel would have never received a positive review here, and she’s an extremely flamboyant super gay international drag queen champion. But even with the extremely over-the-top package Trixie Mattel presents, Orville Peck’s imagery and marketing still precedes him more. Trixie Mattel simply released a handful of well-written acoustic folks songs and let the world catch on to how cool and surprising they were. Orville Peck feels he’s on a crusade to “integrate” country, saying as much in the press, while actual country artist who happen to be gay such as Brandy Clark once again get overlooked because they refuse to wear their sexuality on their sleeve, or use it to pander for appeal to the media, and simply want their music to speak for itself.
If you find joy in the music of Orville Peck, that’s all that matters, not how “authentic” or “country” he might be, or the opinion of a critic paid to deconstruct music and make it fail under pressure if possible. The draw of Orville Peck to many is obvious. But in 2019, there have been so many better efforts to focus attention on than an act like this. And if we’re all hot to trot to “integrate” or “diversify” country music, how about we start with the women of country who’ve been systemically excluded despite devoting their lives to the genre, and happen to be releasing amazing projects in 2019. That’s a better cause to champion compared to some punk drummer in a bondage mask looking to hopscotch the field just because he likes dudes. It should be about the music first, and with Orville Peck, the marketing and image precede the musical effort. Call this an ambitious indie rock project, you probably get my seal of approval. Call it country, and you introduce a set of standards it can’t stand up to.
1 1/4 Guns Down (4/10)
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May 9, 2019 @ 9:34 am
WARNING: Any comments veering anywhere close to homophobia will be immediately deleted, as will comments complaining about censorship. Let’s focus on the merits of this man’s music. Thank you.
June 1, 2019 @ 3:12 pm
Yeah. What ev. Love the music
May 9, 2019 @ 9:49 am
Hey Trig, i was thinking about writing you some weeks ago about this guy…but in the end i also thought he wasn’t worth and not enough country anyway…agree with your review.
May 9, 2019 @ 10:06 am
I didn’t want to review this record, but I received an incredible amount of requests and curiosity. I agree it makes a good conversation piece, and I truly understand the appeal some have in this music. But I have to be honest.
May 11, 2019 @ 3:35 pm
You said “in the end.” Lol
May 9, 2019 @ 9:56 am
This album is kickass and the aesthetic is on point.
Go see a live show to fully appreciate the legend that is Orville Peck. He is selling shows out across the country and crossing boundaries. This name will not fade. YeeHaw
May 9, 2019 @ 10:06 am
I stumbled across this record a few weeks ago as an indie rock fan, so like you stated in the review I was pleasantly surprised to hear the country influences throughout. I was also relatively unspoiled as to who Orville Peck was. I didn’t realize the hat, mask, and fringe were part of the persona (just assumed it was a cool aesthetic for the album cover) nor did I realize he was more or less an established musician with previously released music. I think that experience carried over as this is a very polished project with good writing, production, and visuals. I’ve given up trying to categorize artists and judge them by how “country” or “authentic” they are. However, if I was playing country music gatekeeper I’d let this guy in as I get a lot more authenticity from this than I do from anything on mainstream radio. Orville latched onto a gimmick and committed so it works for this album. Overall, I get a lot of Roy Orbison and slight Johnny Cash vibes which is enough for me to enjoy a full listen and come back to my favorite tracks.
May 9, 2019 @ 10:17 am
I can totally see the appeal of this guys sound and music. Personally I prefer more acoustic and traditional sounding, “earthy” instruments but his sound is interesting, as you’ve pointed out – and also true for me, as noted in a comment above – I would listen to it any day over country radio. I also like what he’s doing and the imagery in the video, etc. The only “problem” I’d have with anything is someone saying this review isn’t open minded. I wish other critic’s reviews were this open minded but also thorough and balanced. If so I’d start reading them again.
May 9, 2019 @ 10:42 am
I loved this album, and didn’t know anything about Orville Peck, besides he wears a weird mask and used to be in a punk band, until long after I started listening. But hey I also love Daniel Romano’s albums old and new. The criticisms of both of those artists here sound to me like those made of Bob Dylan. Not saying Romano or Peck will go on to do what Dylan did, but I very much want to listen to artists who aren’t afraid to piss some fans off if it means following their drive to make great art.
May 9, 2019 @ 11:33 am
Glad you like it, also happy you are not saying this guy is the next Dylan. Because, he’s not. Just my opinion, of course. But, he’s not…
May 9, 2019 @ 11:38 am
I’m not sure I totally got the comparison to Romano in the album review, because Orville Peck has yet to evolve his music away from country. (I understand you could say it isn’t country, now.) Trigger’s point about Daniel Romano is that he made (undisputedly) country albums, but we should have been weary of him moving on from the genre because he was a hipster. (Romano is much more Dylanesque at this point than Peck, although of course he isn’t Dylan, and the easiest way to know this is that he’s copying Dylan.) We should be weary of Peck because he’s also a maybe a hipster?
But on a larger level, none of this makes much sense to me. I can like a country album now, and later if the artist makes an album that isn’t country, I may or may not like it, but I won’t retroactively dislike the previous one.
May 9, 2019 @ 11:40 am
Bob Dylan going electric is one thing. Daniel Romano and Ryan Adams saying they made country only to be ironic and we were all morons for buying in because country music is for morons is another. When Bob Dylan came to Nashville to record, he did it with reverence, and purposely reached out to respected country artists and players for acceptance and guidance, even as a cultural revolutionary of his time. These days artists outside of country love to tout how much they want to upset norms and tear down institutions because of how stuffy they are, even though those same institutions accepted Dylan into the fold 50 years ago with open arms.
May 9, 2019 @ 11:56 am
Dylan going electric and Dylan making a country album aren’t the same cultural moment, as you know. The former is much more applicable to Romano.
May 9, 2019 @ 2:05 pm
See: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for reference on how to integrate in Nashville in a respectful way.
May 9, 2019 @ 10:49 am
But the song isn’t bad. Not country, but not bad.
May 9, 2019 @ 12:11 pm
The weird thing about this review and the reviewers is that they’re th the ones imposing these theories and ideas that Orville himself has never said… you all claim that he’s trying to be ‘totally original’ when he himself has named multitudes of different influences. You guys are claiming a narrative for him that then you claim to not like. He has an idea of what showmanship is which includes the image, and he clearly has the voice to back it allll up, whereas most people definitely do not. If you dont get it that’s fine, but if there’s a time for a BOWIE-esque country artist, it definitely is now. I’ve watched his interviews and he definitely knows country history and has a genuine love for it. Country is outsider music to some, like me, which is why I love this record. If you have an imagination and are tired of today’s country music, this album shouldn’t be so divisive. KEEp it up Orville, you’ve made a fan of me and I simply cannot wait to see where you’re headed.
May 9, 2019 @ 12:56 pm
The line on originality from the review is, “The other problem with Orville Peck and Pony is it’s not as original as many are making it out to be.”
I’m not putting the impetus on Orville for saying he’s original, I’m putting it on the media who like we see so often these days, come to country artists unaware of the genre aside from outright incorrect stereotypes. To many, Orville Peck is the first openly gay artist to ever make country music, just like Lil Nas X was the first African American artist to make country music. And as such they should be showered with praise for being groundbreaking and original pioneers. I don’t expect non country fans or journalists to know about an obscure band from Seattle called Brent Amaker and the Rodeo who were specifically citing David Bowie as a direct influence 15 years ago and have released multiple country records with that approach. But as someone who is pretty knowledgeable about country, I feel the need to present that information to offer some context to what others are saying.
And like I said in the review, if you like this music, that’s all that matters. I see its merits. I also see its holes.
May 9, 2019 @ 1:20 pm
Right, but now you’re blaming the media and other people’s ignorance on your OWN opinion of him… instead of…. just liking it? Seems like a bit of a reach for a negative review
May 9, 2019 @ 1:25 pm
That’s not what I’m doing at all, I’m just offering some context. My opinion about Orville Peck and ‘Pony’ is that it’s a pretty good album taking a unique perspective on retro music and is easy to get into, but injures itself by trying to be passed off as country when any country elements are fleeting and based mostly on imagery and stereotype.
May 9, 2019 @ 1:50 pm
Steve, Trigger’s reviews and his whole site are not simply dedicated to whether or not a piece of music is enjoyable. The site is called “savingcountrymusic.com” because it’s entirely dedicated to preserving the definition and legacy of country music. Of course his review is largely about whether the album is country at all.
There are plenty of people who review things simply on whether they like them, and you can go read them if that’s what you want. Don’t come to someone who has a stated mission and get upset because that mission is a part of his criteria for reviewing something. That’s ridiculous.
May 9, 2019 @ 2:46 pm
Kevin, I love this site and the reviews here which is exactly why I’m a bit disappointed in what read to be quite an impure review that then was confirmed in the comment above. Outlaw Country shouldn’t be judged by what other people say about it, if someone is an outsider wanting to make country, that’s probably a point of view worth checking out. Ive never even listened to this guy beforehand and I’m actually loving what I hear so far.
May 9, 2019 @ 3:47 pm
Again, nothing about the review was clouded about what anyone else feels about this record. This was a long review, and I can remark on how some in the media are portraying the record without it affecting my personal judgement on the music. Also, I would never criticize music for not being country enough unless it claims to be country. Many people have mentioned Chris Isaak and Roy Orbison here which are great examples. Both artists incorporated country elements into their music and ingratiated themselves to the genre in that way, but never claimed to be country. The same goes for Bruce Springsteen and John Mayer as I mentioned above. The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead are some other examples. I’ve reviewed songs and records from many artists who aren’t country, not considering the “country-ness” of the music as something to criticize. The difference here is Orville Peck is demanding his music be considered country, which makes it important for someone like a country music critic to offer context and look beyond imagery and surface textures to ask just how country it is.
I wrote this review knowing it would be an unpopular opinion. But this was a record a lot of people were talking about, and my opinion was requested, and so I shared it. You may disagree and I respect that, but I don’t think there’s anything “impure” about it.
May 9, 2019 @ 2:15 pm
As a huge Bowie fan, I’ve been wondering if country could ever have it’s own Bowie-type artist. It’s a good thought-exercise. I’m not so sure.
The thing that made Bowie a unique and singular artist was his insatiable thirst for esoteric knowledge through books, film, music, and fringe culture, and using that to create unique reinterpretations of aesthetic style and sound. He was an expert collector and chameleon and changed his style and persona with every album – which he put out yearly from the late sixties through the seventies. He rarely did the same thing twice, despite his huge album output in the early half of his career.
Is that really possible in country? A genre that prides itself on authenticity and tradition? I feel like Bowie could’ve made a great country album through mimicry and adoption of certain genre signifiers (however lovingly – I don’t think he would’ve disrespected the genre), but it’s unlikely he would’ve been accepted as a true “country” artist, or ever claim to be.
Barring Bowie’s flamboyant “glam” attributes, I think an artist like Beck is the closest we have to a “Bowie” type artist that has always flirted with country. He’s referenced country as an influence since day one (particularly Hank Williams) and touched on the genre several times (Sea Change and Mourning Phase) but he’d never claim to be country, nor be accepted as country.
Unfortunately, I just don’t think country, as a genre, is conducive to a Bowie-type artist. The foundations of country just don’t really allow it.
May 9, 2019 @ 3:56 pm
Country music already has its own Bowie-type artist, and it’s Brent Amaker and the Rodeo. Unfortunately they’re from Seattle and rarely tour, and haven’t released an album in a few years so few people know about them. But there’s a reason their 2013 album “Year of the Dragon” was nominated for Album of the Year here and it for many of the reasons folks are gravitating towards Orville Peck. I believe they’re working on a new record.
May 10, 2019 @ 8:55 am
Thanks for the heads up regarding Brent Amaker. I’ve just needle-dropped through all his albums on Spotify, and I’m honestly not quite getting the Bowie influence in style or execution – though I’m hearing a little Iggy Pop in the vocals (Bowie friend and frequent collaborator) and certainly Devo (which Amaker also seems to reference as an influence). Maybe you can point out something I’m not seeing or hearing?
When I think of Bowie, I think of an artist who didn’t stay in one spot for longer than one album cycle (a year, or less). In other words, the only common thread in Bowie’s creative career was constant change and momentum.
All four of these Brent Amaker albums sound fairly consistent in style, lyrics, and execution to me – whereas Bowie went through at least five different genres with significant lyrical fluctuation in the same span of time during his peak in the 70’s. For example, “Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust” sounds nothing like “Young Americans” which, in turn, sounds nothing like “Low.” Totally different styles, genres, lyrical approach, and sonic aesthetics. He was all over the place, but always remained “Bowie.”
Cool Lester Smooth
May 9, 2019 @ 7:13 pm
Honestly…that sounds a bit like what Sturgill’s first three albums have done.
May 10, 2019 @ 8:34 am
I agree, in a way. Sturgill put out three albums in pretty quick succession, with each straying farther and farther away from the “country” template – incorporating other sonic textures and aesthetic styles. The result however is that fans quickly claimed Sturgill was no longer “country” and even Sturgill himself started echoing the same sentiment (most recently saying the next album won’t be “country” at all).
So, at some point a Bowie-type artist in country essentially stops being country, which backs up my original theory. The things that make Bowie, Bowie, don’t quite mesh with the things that make country, country.
May 9, 2019 @ 12:11 pm
Good, honest and well thought-out review of a record I was hoping to see you write about it – why I keep reading this site. I agree with your assessment entirely. I was showing someone the first Mojave 3 record recently and Knife in the Water (the first is a lot closer to my ideal of “Country Dream Pop” and the latter’s first few records successfully merged Slowcore and country”) and they tried to make a case for this guy being country. Not quite. I feel like cowboy aesthetics and signifiers are enough for a lot of people who don’t normally listen to country currently – which is reductive, but sadly not surprising given the state of contemporary culture.
May 9, 2019 @ 12:20 pm
Interesting and I kind of liked it. I’ll have to give it a few more listens and look up some of his other work.
Kind of reminds me of Chris Isaak in a way.
May 9, 2019 @ 12:50 pm
Definitely getting a Chris Isaak vibe – not bad, but definitely a lot closer to a Roy Orbison crooner derivative (akin to some solo Morrissey stuff) then straight up country. However, he knows his history and seems to have a fair amount of reverence for the genre, even if the most “Country” thing about him is his aesthetic currently. Still, better for the genre as a whole than Lil Nas X!
May 9, 2019 @ 12:26 pm
Putting out an album to troll country music doesn’t sound unlikely at all for someone to do these days. But I can’t find anything on Daniel Romano indicating he said something like that. Was there an interview or something where he talked about this?
May 9, 2019 @ 1:03 pm
Daniel Romano was interviewed at Stagecoach a few years ago and basically tee’d off on country, its fans, how’d he made his music ironically, has iterated similar things in other interviews. I was unable to get my hands on the exact interview from Stagecoach, but if I can find it (if it wasn’t taken down), I will post a link.
May 10, 2019 @ 6:19 am
Was it this? I don’t know why anyone would be surprised (or offended) that Daniel Romano think Dierks Bentley is shit.
May 10, 2019 @ 8:41 am
I’m getting security warnings in multiple browsers when I try to click on that link so I’m not going to click through. My recollection is it was in a national periodical but I can’t remember. It wasn’t just one article either, Romano was quoted in multiple places saying some pretty disparaging things about country. I remember at the time I was going to write an article about it, but may have gotten too busy or didn’t want to waste any more ink on him. I might have a cache of bookmarks somewhere.
May 10, 2019 @ 9:42 am
I don’t doubt that he said some of the things you recall, because he’s certainly something a provocateur, but the only thing close to it I could find (even braving past the security warnings) isn’t much different than your own assessment of Stagecoach and/or the state of popular country music.
May 10, 2019 @ 10:12 am
Read the article Jack Williams posted below. That’s a pretty good flavor of the things he’s been saying in multiple interviews, trouncing country, Americana, genre, all of it.
May 10, 2019 @ 8:56 am
I was surprised to hear you say that Daniel Romano, as I hadn’t head anything like that, whereas I definitely had with respect to Ryan Adams. I found the article below. Maybe there’s worse out there, but I didn’t find anything objectionable to the point where it ruins my appreciation of his country efforts. He seems to have disdain for the “Americana” term (I don’t like the term, either) and didn’t care for “the scene” (Americana? Traditional Country?) that he got associated with after his country efforts (“I was a fan of the formula and the style, but the affiliation is somewhat of a disease.”) It doesn’t endear me to him exactly, but it’s not Ryan Adams level jackassery.
I started going south on Ryan Adams after reading an article on his former Whiskeytown bandmate Caitlin Cary in No Depression in the early aughts. Apparently, Adams would torpedo about every third show with some diva, performance art bullshit that he thought was so “punk rock.” It would infuriate the rest of the band, who wanted to put on a good show for the paying fans. A couple of years, I finally broke down and bought a copy of his Heartbreaker album second hand. I still haven’t listened to it. Every time I’ve thought about playing it, I’d picture that Ryan Adams smirk and think of everything I can’t stand about him and think “yeah, screw that.”
May 10, 2019 @ 10:10 am
I believe this is one of the many articles that I read on Romano that troubled me. It may not be the worst, but in my opinion, it’s pretty damn bad.
“But Romano was anxious to distance himself from the ‘country’ designation.
“The reality is when I was experimenting with country music, I was unaware of the [current] scene,” he shrugs. “I was a fan of the formula and the style, but the affiliation is somewhat of a disease.”
So he basically just called country music a “disease.” What is the “current scene” he is talking about? Is he talking about the mainstream? Or is he talking about independent country too, or Americana, which he also trounces. He says about Americana,
“It’s the McDonald’s of music,” he chuckles, before backtracking. “No, what’s way less popular than that? Let’s call it the Burger King of music.”
Wouldn’t that be more appropriate for mainstream country as opposed to Americana? In this article, he’s actively trouncing independent roots music, country, Americana, all of it, and not just as terms, but as a community.
May 10, 2019 @ 10:41 am
I’m not sure reading this is adding up to what you described, either. He references the affiliation with country as a disease, in an article that mentions fans giving him the finger at shows when he played rock songs. I’ve been at a (small) Daniel Romano where people aggressively yelled at him to play “Old Fires Die” during every song. Shit, I wanted to hear it too, but it wasn’t obvious that wasn’t was he was going for that night, and weird to not get that after a few songs and just try to enjoy yourself.
His statements about Americana seem to reflect more that it’s a catch-all for all sort of music, with no discernible characteristics of it’s own, which is basically true.
The bottom line seems like he’s just something of a strange, enigmatic artist who made a few spectacular country records and then moved on to another sound. I don’t really see any reason to get offended by him. Was he really going to make a better country album than “If I’ve Only One Time Askin'” I didn’t really love Mosey at the time, but thought Modern Pressure was fantastic and have come back around to Mosey somewhat.
May 10, 2019 @ 10:58 am
It’s not exactly clear what the scene is that he’s referring to. It would have been nice if that was clear.
I think mainstream country music would be McDonalds in his analogy. And as far as what he’s saying about Americana, I see many country fans here make similar points on a regular basis. I personally think it’s a low hanging fruit type of criticism, but there it is.
I don’t think he’s saying country music itself is a disease (he seems to be a fan of the music), but his affiliation with it is “somewhat of a disease” to him personally. What doe that mean? He likes the music, but found he doesn’t feel at home in whatever “the scene” he was associated with or with the audience he was drawing? If so, I feel like I’ve heard that before. Like maybe Justin Townes Earle describing his audience after his first couple of albums.
May 10, 2019 @ 11:22 am
Romano uses the term “McDonalds” in reference to Americana specifically, before then downgrading it even more by calling it the “Burger King” of music because it’s less popular. We all know that using “McDonalds” towards music is a pejorative. Yes, Daniel’s words can be interpreted multiple ways, but it is unmistakable he is running down the terms “country” and “Americana,” and if he wanted to offer more distinction and context to his comments, he didn’t twist and angle to do it. He doubled down.
Look, this is a tangent, and I don’t mean to completely run down Daniel Romano who received numerous positive reviews here and released some great country music. But he also broke a lot of hearts when he changed formats and started giving interviews like this. Some may think that’s silly because hey, who cares about genre? Well many country fans do, and they bought into this guy’s music and defended him against the “hipster” accusations, and ultimately got burned. I just don’t want to see the same thing happen with people who are buying into Orville Peck. At least Romano released actual country music, as opposed to 90’s retro emo pop with a cowboy hat.
May 10, 2019 @ 12:06 pm
Fair enough. It just seems like, for someone who is usually careful with words, and furious when people pull a quote without proper context to score a point, you’re sort of running with very little from D Romano here to say that he’s condemned all of country and Americana music.
It seems more likely that he was just frustrated that after a few great country albums he couldn’t move on stylistically without a bunch of people turning on him.
Peck, on the other hand, seems to have set out to not fit quite anywhere from the get go. It seems like a no brainer to me that if you love great country music you’d love Pony, regardless of how you classified it, but obviously that isn’t a universal opinion.
May 10, 2019 @ 12:09 pm
Right, he’s definitely running Americana down. And by calling the Burger King of music instead of McDonalds, he’s saying maybe it’s less popular, but it’s still mediocre. But like I said, lots of people around here run it down and in similar ways, so I can’t get too worked up about that.
I was disappointed for selfish reasons when his next release after ““If I’ve Only One Time Askin’” wasn’t country, but not surprised. From what I learned of his background, I thought we might only get the one country album and was pleasantly surprised when he put out another quality one.
Cool Lester Smooth
May 10, 2019 @ 2:54 pm
Also, Ryan Adams is a fucking creep, according to quite a few people.
May 10, 2019 @ 3:04 pm
And now we know that, too.
Cool Lester Smooth
May 10, 2019 @ 3:10 pm
Always bears mentioning, haha…even if I do enjoy quite a few of his songs.
May 9, 2019 @ 12:43 pm
Glue a few weird things together and someone will buy it just because it’s new. Sorry, too weird for me (old dinosaur).
May 9, 2019 @ 12:51 pm
I’m an old dinosaur too!! Too old! And i love this record, makes me happy to be alive
May 9, 2019 @ 1:05 pm
you know who is gay and awesome? Elton John. You know who is gay not awesome. this guy.
May 9, 2019 @ 1:16 pm
On point review, Trigger. Been seeing photos of this dude in his weird fringed bondage mask and cowboy hat on tons of indie rock blogs lately, but was never encouraged to actually read about him or listen.
Skimming the album, this is totally on some 80’s indie/goth and new wave vibes, with maybe some Roy Orbison elements. Totally a shtick, but I’ve heard and seen far worse. This will do well in some gay circles (I think “pony” or “pony boy” is slang for a submissive gay guy, and cowboy attire has always been part of that culture, along with biker attire obviously – something to do with subverting “macho” hetero stereotypes), edgy girls (some elements of Lana Del Ray in there), and ironic indie rock boys with a soft spot for the Smiths and Bauhaus.
Aesthetically, it’s fine. But it’s a pass for me, dog.
May 9, 2019 @ 2:56 pm
Echo and the Bunnymen sung by Junior Brown.
May 9, 2019 @ 3:04 pm
Schtick or not, I think I’m a fan. I heard Dead of Night a few months ago and dug it and just listened to more of his stuff after reading your review and I like what I’m hearing. Like others have said, it’s not country, but the country influences are apparent. Funnily enough, I don’t like Morrissey or Chris Issac all that much, but I like this guy’s music, which is fairly derivative of those two, not to mention Roy Orbison (who I DO like).
May 9, 2019 @ 4:02 pm
Will Orville Peck save country music? No.
Is the album labeled as country on Google Play? No.
Is Pony a bad album? No.
Is it my kind of music? No.
Will i listen to the brandnew Lee Kernaghan album Backroad Nation now? Yes.
Will i listen to the brandnew Irene Kelley album Benny’s TV Repair too? Yes.
May 9, 2019 @ 8:31 pm
Jesus, listen to a Lee Kernaghan album? What was second prize, having to listen twice?
May 9, 2019 @ 5:03 pm
The album reminds me of “Sweet Sixteen” era Billy Idol vocally, backed musically by Echo and the Bunnymen, but processed through a David Lynch mood lens. It evokes images of a bar out in the desert and there’s a lady with a log there having a Lone Star.
May 9, 2019 @ 7:12 pm
Just listened to a few songs. I am thinking it is a big pile of garbage with no destination. I cannot actually put into words my thoughts on this conglomeration of sounds. Speechless to say the least.
Cool Lester Smooth
May 9, 2019 @ 7:22 pm
Pretty good stuff, albeit not exactly my jam!
That said…it’s much less country than a lot of people who refuse to label their music as “country,” because they feel doing so would be inauthentic to who they are and the music they make.
(Who’s got two thumbs and really, really, really wants a Jade Bird review? This guy!)
May 10, 2019 @ 3:23 am
quote: “Turn To Hate” would have been an alternative rock anthem if it had been released two or three decades ago.
It was one, actually, as it has been released in 1983. Check out “Uncertain Smile” by The The. I’m guessing “Turn To Hate” is supposed to be a tribute, it’s so close (but it’s missing the perfect piano solo of the original).
May 10, 2019 @ 8:58 am
Yeah, so many of these songs sound like other songs, which is one of the reasons they’re so easy to warm up to, but why when you really start digging through the material with a critical ear, it begins to get exposed and fall apart pretty easily. It’s fetching, but undercooked, and under-developed.
May 10, 2019 @ 5:47 am
Nothing to see here kids. This will have zero impact on country music. This weirdo in Gene Autry duds and a stupid mask is not the future of anything. Frankly the costume is insulting and the guys obviously trolling. Yes it’s very retro Morrissey meets Chris Isaak sounding, yes it’s in minor key with reverb drenched guitar, yeah dude can sing pretty well, yes there are shades of Orbison, but at the end of the day nothing here even resembles country music. The current country music demographic isn’t going to be interested in it in the least.
The only reason music media is hyping it is as Trig already pointed out, they have an agenda to disrupt and take down every last vestige of tradition in country music as they find it threatening to their political views. Yawn….
Nothing to see here. Moving on…
Anybody here go to the Keith Whitley tribute? Love to hear about it.
May 10, 2019 @ 8:56 am
This is an interesting snippet from a Billboard feature on Orville Peck:
“Peck says disruption in country music extends to some of the genre’s greats, including stars like Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline, each of whom flipped over societal norms. So when Peck imbues his music with subversive qualities, he doesn’t believe he’s blazing a trail, but traveling along a path that has been laid out for him by legends who came before him.”
If Orville Peck wants to “disrupt” and “subvert” homophobic elements in country music, that’s one thing. However Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard and Patsy Cline spent their entire Hall of Fame careers supporting the lending to the legacy of country music, and any “subversion” was relegated to one or two songs that the media loves to harp on. They didn’t use their debut album to look to undermine country music as a cultural institution. Remember who else said they wanted to “disrupt” country music? That asshole from The Backstreet Boys, AJ McLean.
It’s the hip thing right now to want to claim you’re making country music, while also claiming you’re actively looking to undermine it. Yes, if you’re talking about undermining some of what’s going on in the mainstream at the moment or elements of bigotry, that’s one thing. But what Peck is trying to do is “disrupt” and “subvert” the entire culture surrounding country music with an expressed political agenda. And just like AJ McLean, his music is not country.
Again, none of this is clouding my judgement on the music itself. I can see the value in what Orville Peck is doing. But it’s not country, and he’s not exactly ingratiating himself to the genre by saying he wants to “disrupt” and “subvert” it. This dude is on a crusade, and trying to pass off enjoyable, but derivative retro indie rock as country, and country shouldn’t have any of it.
May 10, 2019 @ 9:22 am
you just did it again, this isn’t a narrative he is saying himself it’s something that a publication constructed and now you’re selling it, I mean you can’t even hide your unfair disregard for the project here. maybe you should look inward and figure out what it really is that you don’t like about it
May 10, 2019 @ 10:00 am
Seriously Steve, I understand your concern. But again, as I’ve said now four times now, you can separate the media message and commentary on that from the criticism of the music itself. You’re the one who seems to refuse to do this, not me. And if you read the entire interview in Billboard, it is impossible for you to walk away without full knowledge that Orville Peck has an agenda with his music, as does the media. I assume an intelligent audience that understands and appreciates the nuance of arguments and discussions. I have no political agenda. I take no stances on political or social causes, aside from ones that attempt to undermine country music or politicize the music space, which takes something that people can come together through and makes it just another polarized element of society. In my opinion, that is what he’s trying to do with his music, though I truly believe this has not clouded my judgement on his music itself.
May 10, 2019 @ 9:24 am
I’m sorry, but I can not buy this anymore. This is one of THE most impure reviews of an album I have ever read on this site. truly a sad moment here.
May 10, 2019 @ 9:30 am
May 10, 2019 @ 9:41 am
I really don’t think thats how he feels. I’ve listened to a lot of interviews with him in the past while and he seems to always denounce that what he is doin is “unique” or “subversive”. You’re writing this guy off as a hipster who is trying to ironically use country themes and motifs to play off his music – but he seems to truly respect and love country music from what I can tell.
Read this question and answer from an interview he did:
“Considering that country’s music identity has been traditionally and culturally monolithic with its stereotypical pieces of Americana, like the pickup truck, the high school sweetheart, the bottle and the gun, etc; what does it mean to create country music as an LGBTQ artist?
-I still think my music has everything to do with the things you mentioned and maybe even more. My aesthetic in general involves the pickup truck, the high school sweetheart and those type of things, but the exciting part is taking all those elements and not necessarily reinventing them or trying to turn them on their head. Actually respecting and admiring those things allows us then to just do it our way.
Sometimes people expect that when they’re going to talk to me about country music that I’m not going to be into like mainstream country or I’m not going to be into this or that. I have such a huge love for country music and so I don’t see myself as someone from the outside coming in and stirring it up. I feel in my heart, I am already a part of that and I’m just doing it my way. I love everything stereotypical about Americana, country, all that stuff. So to me—however I identify—country music is just a part of who I am—they aren’t separate to me.”
May 10, 2019 @ 10:36 am
Okay then why didn’t he make a country music record instead of a Chris Issak/Morrisseey tribute being passed off as country? That is why this entire project is fundamentally flawed. If this had actually been a country record, it would have been a lot more cool, and had a much greater impact.
And make no mistake, the press is screwing this whole entire thing up, just like they did with Kacey Musgraves, just like they did with Lil Nas X, because they are so incredibly thirsty to draw blood from the country genre, if not outright destroy it. Putting words into Orville’s mouth and implanting their agenda into his music is not helping his cause, or the causes they’re attempting to forward.
Cool Lester Smooth
May 10, 2019 @ 3:08 pm
Dude, the last quote from Peck in that Billboard interview is:
“I’m not consciously trying to create a new perspective for country music, I’m just trying to make a country music album. My perspective is the only one I have.”
When he says “Country music listeners want more, and they are looking for far more diversity than I think the record labels and the radio stations want to give them credit for.” He’s just talking about his lyrics and point of view, not the makeup of
the music, any more than Wheeler Walker Junior is.
I don’t think it is a country album, and I’m not gonna hop on a Ryanair flight to London to see him in the fall, but I do think you’re being a bit unfair when it comes to Peck’s perspective, and that it might be coloring your assessment of the album, which really isn’t too far off from most of Musgraves’ offering, sonically.
May 10, 2019 @ 6:00 pm
I was surprised how country the Musgraves album was after how the press portrayed it ahead of the release. I was surprised just how not country Orville Peck was after reading everything about it ahead of the release. Though not particularly country, “Golden Hour” is slightly more country than this. But the big difference is Kacey Musgraves has songs. There’s nothing that comes even close to “Rainbow” or “Space Cowboy” here. Folks can keep trying to veer this conversation towards whatever bias I brought to this review, but ultimately it’s about the music for me, and frankly this music—though appealing on the surface—just doesn’t hold up to deeper scrutiny. The songwriting isn’t bad, but it’s very pedestrian. Kacey Musgraves won Grammies for her songs, and deserved them. Even then, Musgraves got a 6.5 grade from me, while Peck got a 4. That’s not that far off.
Cool Lester Smooth
May 10, 2019 @ 6:23 pm
The only biases I think you have are against people whom the media portrays in a way that makes you feel they are inauthentic (*cough* Midland).
I’d probably say it’s a 6/10 vs. a 4/10, against your “if it calls itself country” standard. I just think you’re letting the “Lil’ Nas X” crap color the tone of your review.
Only people I’ll “Stan” for are Isbell, WCG, JTE, and Jade mothafuckin Bird, haha!
This dude ain’t all that close to that list, but I DO see steve’s point, regarding the text of the review.
Cool Lester Smooth
May 10, 2019 @ 6:33 pm
(I also think you’d probably give Golden Hour a 1 and 1/2 guns/7.5 if 10 if you reviewed it today, because those songs ARE great, which colors my assumed 6.)
Cool Lester Smooth
May 10, 2019 @ 6:54 pm
At the risk of seeming like spam:
You occasionally let a perception of inauthenticity supersede your evaluation of the quality of the music, in an absolute sense.
I think it’s possible, in this instance, that you’ve mistaken a 20-something drummer from a Canadian indie rock band making a good faith effort, and ABSOLUTELY failing, to create real country sound for a dickbag like AJ McLean trying to “disrupt” country, and that it’s colored your approach to reviewing him.
May 10, 2019 @ 10:03 pm
AJ McLean didn’t even enter my mind when I was writing this review. We’ve gone off on a tangent of a tangent, which has led people to believe that I wrote my review based off a Billboard article I hadn’t read until after the review was posted.
May 10, 2019 @ 7:16 am
Ya know the funny thing is I gave this album a full listen the other day when somebody asked in another thread asked if it was on the radar. Of course I knew nothing of the details of who what or where an “Orville Pecks” is. Upon listening I had the feeling of ….meh and now I know why. There’s so much other real good stuff out right now (Jarrell, Train Robbers, Carmichael, Alexander) that I barely have time to listen to, this wouldn’t be close to getting in my rotation. It won’t get another spin. Not enough time in the day.
May 10, 2019 @ 8:59 am
whatever the hell this is , its way better than ‘country’ radio in terms of artistry , vision , sonics , eye candy , don’t-give-a-damns , vocals and vibe . wouldn’t buy it , buy certainly understand its appeal which is also more than i can say about ‘country’ radio .
nice banjo …too little too late . ….
sure …why not this flashback to ‘ Blue Velvet ”s vibe ?
May 10, 2019 @ 9:56 pm
Dude looks like the gimp from “Pulp Fiction” with fringe.
May 11, 2019 @ 3:38 pm
I get a Lee Hazlewood vibe off of this
reasonable mainstream country fan
May 12, 2019 @ 6:46 am
I wanted to not like it, but – “thin” or not, “art project “ or not – it’s enjoyable to listen to. I think the description of this album as “interpretive rather than original” hits the nail squarely on the head. It’s like STP’s last album with Scott Weiland or anything by Lana Del Rey – hooky, moody, evocative and strangely reminiscent of something you can’t quite put your finger on. But, ultimately, it falls flat for me as Country, and I’m not so sure it’ll stand up well to repeated listens. Time will tell, I guess.
May 12, 2019 @ 4:05 pm
Have been relistening to the album, and re-reading this, and have to say I’ve this review is a low point for SCM. This is a site that has always been about recognizing great music, and seeing past the politics, but this review is completely packed with the latter. Really unfair characterization of Peck’s reverence for and approach to making country music.
May 16, 2019 @ 12:28 pm
The embbed song was quite nice. I’ll definitely give this a spin or two. With that said, the only true PONY album I’ll be invested in will be PONY BRADSHAW’S new album Sudden Opera. If anyone is poised to follow in the steps of Sturgil and Stapleton…it’s him.
May 16, 2019 @ 1:55 pm
This album feels like a clinical approach to country & western music. I don’t mind genre-mixing, and when I’m listening, I couldn’t care less about authenticity, identity (unless that impacts the music), or what a guy says in the press. But this feels a bit too soulless for my taste. It’s a pleasant enough approximation of what an evolution of cowboy music might sound like, and it’s certainly executed well enough for a listen… But I can’t help but feel detached from it. Is it ever bad? No, but does it have anything interesting to say? Does it get its hooks in me? No as well, unfortunately.
May 20, 2019 @ 1:02 pm
Orville had only been slightly on my radar as of recently until I went to his show in Seattle on Saturday night with a friend who was excited to see him. I had seen one of Orville’s videos. Thought he was maybe goth or early New Wave vibes. I assumed the vintage country attire was just a character for the video, since there were some nods to western elements in the song. The mask definitely made me think of Brent Amaker & the Rodeo. He was great but I kept thinking he was more Morissey/Isaac than anything else. Phil Wandscher of Whiskeytown was actually there with Ben Strehle, the masked-man from Brent Amaker & The Rodeo (who now plays keys with Nikki Lane). So, funny that their bands are named here. Neither of them knew Orville or his stuff but are friends with one of the openers. I heard Phil say that if he didn’t know any better, he would think it was Mark Pickerel under the mask. Which is almost dead-on. Mark has been making similar sounding music for years & years but he doesn’t have any hype behind him beyond his start in the Screaming Trees with Mark Lanegan. He definitely doesn’t have a character schtick or media spin factor. It is a really smart business move to work an image & a story. So many examples of that out there- Lady Gaga, Midland, etc. RuPaul fronted punk bands before reformulating as a pop diva drag queen to find epic success. Anyone could see that these performers have just created characters for themselves to play, including Orville. Even Brent Amaker & The Rodeo started as a touring band on motorcycles, in matching cowboy outfits & masks. Motorcycles & western clothes may have been a part of their day to day lives but it was also still gimmicky. And again, I did enjoy Orville’s music & I enjoyed his gimmicky character. I even liked that his character doesn’t match his sound. I’ve never read an interview with him, so I had no idea how he was presenting himself or how anyone else was presenting him. I know he got signed on SubPop which isn’t known for being a country label.
I’ve now heard his album. It’s got some solid tracks, some that could be better. Nothing bad. Wouldn’t consider it really country but good all the same. His voice melts people & his image excites them. They don’t want that stomped on. I found your write-up less damning of Orville than others did, I guess. He makes good sounds, but not specifically country. And that’s ok, people.
May 20, 2019 @ 6:17 pm
This is funny. Not to sound like I have a conspiracy theory and this has nothing to do with his music, but I’ve had the thought that maybe he got done of the Orville persona from Ben Strehle. Dude is known for his extensive flashy western wear collection & wearing a mask on stage but also is obscure enough it would be easy to copy. Probably not true but you never know. 🤷♀️
July 22, 2019 @ 2:00 pm
If you are going to compare this to country music then you need to go back to the real country music of Patsy Cline, Sons of the Pioneers, Hank Sr, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, then add a mix of early rock, Elvis, Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly.
His music “does” have a country sound to it but it’s nostalgic country not the new pop-country that’s out today.
July 22, 2019 @ 7:05 pm
I came across this album the other day and while it was billed as “queer country” i didn’t feel it was country either. Now I’m not a country fan, so take my opinion for what it is, but i don’t think Orville peck is country. It has a few elements like you say but over all isn’t. With that said I did discover this review while googling him and after reading your review I discovered two artist I’m into who I wouldn’t have found if it were for Orville Peck. So maybe the labeling will lend shine to the few artist you mention above who haven’t gotten it yet but are deserving of it.
August 15, 2019 @ 12:10 pm
Seems pretty sincere to me.
February 24, 2020 @ 4:52 pm
When does he ever announce he’s gay? He never once touches on it in the album or in any interview. You’re straight up lying, what a sack of shit website this is, like where do you get off pretending his music isn’t country?
February 24, 2020 @ 4:55 pm
Um, are you serious? I just Googled “Orville Peck Gay.” Headlines proclaiming he’s gay came up from The New York Times, Billboard, The L.A. Times, HuffPost, Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, and way more from there. And these are just headlines.
April 9, 2020 @ 3:21 pm
I read the review but not all the replies. I’d say 4/10 does not do justice to the album or Orville Peck as an artist. Even if you think it’s not country.
October 18, 2020 @ 12:10 am
3: number of times in the same article you uses the phrase “happens to be gay”. The first followed by a snide comment re: the gay artist’s hunger to publicize his gayness.
You know who writes things like “happens to be gay”? Really defensive straight dudes who “happen” to be a wee bit homophobic.
(Oh I know, you praised the having-had-happened-to-be-gay Trixie Mattel too, so all good.)