While the mysterious Orville Peck’s full-length debut Pony has been primarily turning heads in country circles, its presentation has deeper roots in shoegaze or post-punk. The abstract pacing has more in common with Joy Division’s slowest ventures and the western atmosphere is built upon glossy guitar effects and vocal filters with traditional instrumentation making sparse appearances. The deeper vocals also draw more comparisons to Ian Curtis or Astbury than Roy Orbison or Johnny Cash.
Such a setup would imply gimmickry or an identity crisis between different styles, but Peck owns up to the aesthetic at hand. The tone is consistent throughout, bright yet bleak with an openness that is enhanced by the minimalist instrumentation, and the mood has a sense of restraint on even the rare upbeat tracks. The whistles and occasional sound effects may seem cartoonish, but nothing ever sounds out of place and the dynamic is well balanced.
The songwriting also stays steady throughout, consisting almost entirely of slowly building numbers. This can make for rather repetitive listening even with a forty-minute runtime, but the sheer pathos ensures engagement. “Dead of Night” sets the stage quite smoothly, driven by a subtle beat and shifting between low verses and high choruses. “Queen of the Rodeo” and “Kansas (Remembers Me Now)” utilize the formula to similar satisfaction and “Roses are Falling” stands out further with a more active waltz. The more upbeat tracks like “Turn to Hate” and “Turn You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)” also do a good job of shaking things up, even if they don’t strike quite as deep.
With all this in mind, part of me feels like the album would’ve benefitted from some extra oomph. The percussion is oftentimes buried in the mix and while a more bombastic performance would’ve felt disingenuous, the emotional swells could’ve been even more impactful with some extra power behind them. Such a move might’ve also helped resolve the songs’ soundalike tendencies and worked to form a more cohesive whole.
If you’ve ever wanted an album full of songs like The Cult’s “Brother Wolf, Sister Moon,” then Orville Peck’s Pony just might be the album for you. Whether it’s post-punk through a country lens or the other way around, it stays committed to a solid vision. Sometimes the flow feels more like a collection of songs rather than a fully developed whole, but the overall mood stays consistent and there are some fantastic tracks on here. I imagine Orville Peck’s MO will be even more effective with further development, but this debut makes a great first impression.
“Dead of Night”
“Queen of the Rodeo”
“Kansas (Remembers Me Now)”
“Roses are Falling”
“Hope to Die”