The fringe-masked cowboy shoots for the silver screen
Orville Peck’s second long-player feels bigger and more immersive than anything he’s ever accomplished, while still managing to rip your heart out.
A voice pristine and ghost-like, Orville Peck operates within an emotionally-heightened plane. His booming baritone runs as thick as honey, always with a dexterity to his melody sculpting that’s hearkened to the bygone era of country & western music. Where his 2019 debut Pony felt pleading and rattled around luminescent instrumentals with a velvet-crushed frailty, the follow-up Bronco levels up with a cinematic finesse. A looming 15 songs, produced by Jay Joyce, punch with a silver-screen sensibility in a way that surprisingly does not deter from the songwriting’s raw, sorrow-drenched rainfall.
Artist: Orville Peck
Label: Columbia Records
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
The record, born out of a “serious depression,” as Peck positions it, throttles the listener with the sort of mental-filled sores many have endured in extreme measures the last two years. “I’m outta time,” he puffs on the lonesome, connection-seeking “Outta Time.” With “The Curse of the Blackened Eye,” percussion flows with a psych-folk whimsy, a bright contrast to the central theme of relationship abuse. Then, “Lafayette” gallops with a monstrously steed force, pummeling the horizon with a reedy, locomotive gate. Bronco honors its name in musical breadth, frequently a tidal wave of style and composition, which gives Peck even more room to color his voice in between the cracks and folds.
“Iris Rose” first unwraps with a delicate acoustic peeling, embracing the wistfulness with languid resignation, and soon blooms with mariachi horns, baked in sun and forgotten love. The mid-record title song gusts with an end-of-the-world bravado, whereas “Trample Out the Days” oozes a golden, ethereal, and altogether calming radiance. “You start to fade / You had your reasons, but I’m telling you that seasons always change,” sings Peck, losing steam on those particularly draining moments in life. Then, there’s “Hexie Mountains,” in which the storyteller tinkers with folky melodic bliss so sweeping it nearly transports you to another place and time entirely.
That’s the general quality found within Bronco. Songs are flip-book portraits, zipping past the senses with an electrifying energy, yet you still have plenty of time to savor each moment. Nothing will prepare you, however, for the two most crushing, insightful, and existentially-twisted entries. “Kalahari Down” is Peck’s sharpest and most mournful, a confessional so thunderous it breaks you in two. “You’ve been gone away, I’ve been riding around / Running out the days, writing out a song on my daddy’s guitar,” he catches tears in his palms. By the end, his voice splinters, and you feel every single pang rip through the recording. “Tell my mother I’m nearly done,” he gasps.
Finally, “City of Gold,” which Peck never initially intended to release, finds him accompanied by a lone guitar. It’s eerie and stunning. “I thought about burning the past,” he considers. His voice is magnetic in such a setting, perfectly imperfect, as he depicts his tortured state with both clarity and fearlessness.
You enter Bronco fully expecting to be yanked through matters of the heart, but you end up being put through a shredder. Orville Peck’s style and timbre remains charmingly distinct, and if there’s anything to be learned, it’s that he is a true showman with more tricks and stunts up his sleeve than you can imagine.
VIDEO: Orville Peck “Daytona Sand”
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