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Orville Peck’s “Pony”: Beyond the Hype & Gimmick

Orville Peck Pony Vinyl

Psychedelia and shoegaze meet cowboy couture. Orville Peck is one of the year’s most exciting new artists, and he’s received critical acclaim and praise across the interwebs.

“Dead of Night” was the obvious first single off his Sub Pop debut, Pony. See the video below:

As noted, the music and style of Orville Peck has a lot of hype behind him this year, so what can I write that’s new and original?

Pretty much nothing. So, I’ll highlight a few favorites from the web.

The Praise & Gimmick of Orville Peck

Orville Peck has received a substantial amount of praise and his masked face often comes across as gimmick (something I’ll address later). These two traits often lead people to step aside and ignore the artist themselves.

Orville Peck Vinyl Cover Art

I recently visited some friends for an afternoon of vinyl, chips and salsa, a few beers, some kombucha, and a hefty dose of music nerdery. I brought my copy of Pony to play.

I’ve been wanting to check this out,” my friend said, “but I was worried it would be too generic or disappointing based on all the praise I kept seeing in magazines.”

I’ve fallen into this trap before. It’s an easy one to trip down, and you almost feel ashamed when you realize the merit behind the hype.

In this Vice interview, peck discusses narrative and storytelling in his songwriting:

Narrative, one of the quintessential characteristics of the American-born-and-bred country music genre, suits him just fine…There are the star-crossed hustlers ominously careening across Nevada on “Dead Of Night” and the trio of select exes scattered like ashes on “Big Sky.”

“For me, this is just my expression and storytelling,” he says. “Mine is the only story I know how to tell.” …By being deliberately concealing himself behind a stage name, that anonymity sets him free, giving him license to write and sing more honestly than if under his birth name.

Orville Peck Is a Lone Stranger Singing Country Songs From Behind a Mask, Vice (March 21, 2019)

The Mystery of Orville Peck

Orville Peck Pony Back Cover

So, who is Orville Peck? This article on Billboard poses just that question:

When asked who he “really” is, Peck cheekily responds: “All I know is I’m Orville Peck, and I’m a country star.” But the singer doesn’t see his self-imposed mystery as a gimmick. “I don’t feel like I’m hiding behind a mask at all,” he tells Billboard. “It’s actually quite the opposite — the mask and all of that has allowed me to be a lot more exposed.”

Meet Orville Peck, the Masked Gay Crooner Revitalizing Classic Country’s Spirit, Billboard (April 23, 2019)

This theme between hiding behind a mask and being unabashedly exposed is one that plays out cleverly in his video for “Hope to Die”:

Abundant Influence

I read somewhere that Orville Peck was a grunge artist in Seattle in the 90s. That he’s a fan of classic country. That his influences span seemingly countless genres and decades.

All of this makes sense, from his presence on Sub Pop–the label that popularized Seattle grunge–to the country-tinged songs he creates.

Here’s another top track from Pony, titled “Turn to Hate”:

Sub Pop has given us artists like this before, many of whom haven’t had the strength and vision to be a show stopper. Daughan Gibson is the first and foremost to come to mind. A gem or two on Me Moan, then somewhat forgettable after that.

Orville Peck Pony Vinyl Label

Peck has power, though, as proven through hype. And Pony as a whole gives him a presence more like Father John Misty than Daughan Gibson. Maybe it’s the so-called gimmick (or, better yet, mystery) or the freedom he has in anonymity. Maybe it’s the hype. Or maybe it’s just that Orville Peck is a damn good artist.

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