Orville Peck Ditches Grit for Glam on 'Bronco'

BY Allie GregoryPublished Apr 8, 2022

Alt-country's most mysterious face remains obscured by a veil of leather and fringe — but for the first time in Orville Peck's whirlwind career, it finally feels like we're getting a look behind the persona, a peek at who's hiding beneath all that grit and gusto. If 2019's Pony introduced us to the mask, sparkling sophomore album Bronco is as unmasked as Peck has ever been.
Written in 2020 when the band were restricted from touring, isolation and an internal emotional battle led our broncobuster to some evidently dark places. As a result, this latest album's lyrics reflect a more personal, introspective tone — and he seems right at home in bouts of misery, even if his once-solemn wail is sounding contrarily cheery nowadays. (Incidentally, the queer subtext of Peck's debut has evolved into full-blown text, and thumbs up to that.)

The crooner underscores all that lyrical content with his massively improved vocal range. His cry now stands in stark contrast to his debut, having undergone a significant transformation on and since 2020 EP Show Pony (a bridge between records that featured a marquee collaboration with Shania Twain, a vocal titan in her own right). That transition puts his newfound vulnerability on full display, laying a foundation that fits nearly twice as many instrumentalists as previous releases did.

Likewise, Bronco finds the Columbia-signed Peck ditching his gothic post-punk riffage in favour of shiny balladry, which is absolutely brimming with showmanship. Imagine Pony as the Joy Division to Bronco's Roy Orbison. It's apples and oranges, though — like comparing a tavern tour to a Las Vegas residency. These 15 tracks are practically dripping in a studio-polished glaze: all rhinestones and glitter, cobwebs and tumbleweeds begone!

That major-label steez is most apparent on two tracks: "Outta Time," a West Coast-inspired homage to Elvis, co-written with folk-leaning bandmate Kyle Edward Connolly; and the ambitious "Let Me Drown," which floats effortlessly on dreamy strings courtesy of Laura Epling, Jordan Lehning and Nicole Neely.

Other standouts include lead single "Daytona Sand," with its chanty "M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I" sure to reverberate at venues far and wide, and closing track "All I Can Say," co-written by the FRIGS/Bria crew (Peck's longtime backing band), who thankfully remain critical contributors on Bronco — percussionist Kris Bowering holds down the signature Peck-band drums on almost every song (most excellently on the title track) alongside the ever-faithful backers Bria Salmena and Duncan Hay Jennings.

From the get-go, the circus surrounding Bronco had it poised for billboard success. And yet, while more than capable of wandering down that road any time he chooses, Peck has still put himself first. And it's for the best: he may have ditched the grit that got him here, but the glam he's donning now suits him just fine. While the horse remains untamed, the reins have clearly been fastened.

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