Orville Peck is an attention-grabbing musician to say the least. A gay country enigma, Peck is never seen without his emblematic leather eye mask with lengthy fringe masquerading the entirety of his face.
His debut LP Pony immediately captivated listeners, with deeply personal lyrics juxtaposing his confidential identity. Peck’s deep and soulful vocals, songwriting prowess and instantly recognizable artistic vision made him one of the country scene’s most promising new faces — or voices, in Peck’s case — as anticipation grew at an exponential rate for his next release.
Over three years since the debut of Pony, Peck is back and better than ever with his sophomore album Bronco. Fifteen tracks long and filled to the brim with Peck’s improved musical stylings, the record’s title is a fitting representation of the musician’s growth since 2019. Blending morosity with comedic wit, Peck’s songwriting is on-par with old-country superstars such as Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. Accompanying his improved lyricism is his exceptional vocal performance; Peck’s impeccable range takes center stage throughout the entirety of the track list, and for good reason.
While no song on the LP is worth skipping, the record holds some clear highlights. Kicking off with the cinematic “Daytona Sand,” Peck’s emotive vocals are paired with impressive production reminiscent of the archetypal “Wall of Sound” of the 1960s. A song centered around change and leaving home, lyrics such as “Another suitcase in your hand/ I hope you brought your walking shoes/ ‘Cause it’s quite a ways, from what I understand,” perfectly capture the hyper-specific emotions of uncertainty. The track tugs at listeners’ heartstrings, and is an outstanding introduction to what the rest of the album has in store.
The following track, “The Curse of the Blackened Eye,” is similarly impressive. Exploring the hardships of leaving an abusive relationship, Peck switches in and out of falsetto, granting audiences an extremely poignant listening experience. Alongside Peck’s vocals are striking lyrics surrounding feelings of depression and fear. Singing “Always said, ‘I should work on my escape’/ Have a heart too long, it’s bound to break,” Peck showcases his simple yet impactful songwriting, making the track one of his most magnificent works to date.
The record’s title track takes obvious inspiration from The Beatles’ early discography given its instrumentation — twangy guitars, tambourines and a simple, upbeat drum pattern. Continuing the LP’s throughline of adventure into the unknown, the song is dancy and beams with much-needed optimism. The buildup into the bridge forces one to the edge of their seat, with Peck belting “ooh see the cowboy sing,” ditching his iconic smooth tones for a welcomed rasp.
There are many other tracks that shine throughout the album’s listen. In “Trample Out the Days,” hard-panning results in an encapsulating soundscape with rich harmonies highlighted in the chorus. “Blush” is a typical country love song, but from a witty, gay perspective: “I don’t miss you that much but, baby, watching you blush/ Some of us, we just gotta ride.” “City of Gold” takes on minimal, largely acoustic instrumentation, highlighting Peck’s heartbreaking lyricism and beautiful musicality.
After such a strong playthrough, however, the album’s concluding song “All I Can Say” is a bit of a disappointment. The song is melodically invigorating, yet the surprise feature from Bria Salmena (the only feature throughout the entire LP) leaves listeners longing for the familiarity of Peck’s voice. Joining in over a minute into the song, Peck’s vocals glisten, but it remains clear that the record would have been better off without the misplaced track.
Highly anticipated, the album exceeds expectations and is by far the best record from Peck since the start of his promising career. Representing a new age of country music, Peck’s musical ethos is bound to shake up the existing country-music landscape. Cleverly written, musically stunning and unwaveringly gay, Bronco is certainly worth the listen, and has only further deepened Peck’s impact on the musical ecosystem around him.