At this point, Orville Peck’s style and image is pretty well-documented – a gay Canadian cowboy who traverses the world and soundtracks that journey to a decidedly retro pop and country palette, with a throaty, old-school delivery, to boot. And to be honest, interesting as it’s always been on paper and in execution at points, I’ve always wanted him to push past some of the more gimmicky aspects of his veneer and deliver a bit more substance on his albums, even if Show Pony provided a nice improvement and was a decidedly leaner listen.
So, in flipping the page for a new project this year that’s over twice as long … look, I wish I could say I was anything but lukewarm on it, but if anything, Bronco is another Peck album, for better and worse. To be fair, I’ve always liked a lot of his delivery and presentation, particularly in how his low, full-throated howl commands the room and can build to some pretty potent crescendos and hooks on songs like “C’mon Baby, Cry” and “Kalahari Down.” He’s always had a theatrical edge and affable charm that’s suited him well, especially on more playful cuts like “Lafayette” with its slight surf-rock inspired groove, the title track that blazes at a pretty quick pace to suit the content, and the absolutely incredible final third of “Outta Time.” He even brings on bandmate Bria Salmena for a duet on the closing track, “All I Can Say,” in which both performers don’t let their stories intertwine, but rather run parallel to one another. And considering that they have amazing chemistry together, I’d love to hear more from them.
But I think my larger issues with this project boil down to two big ones I’ve had with really connecting to Peck’s work more, in that for as playful and theatrical as this album is, his compositions always seem to be lacking in groove, which doesn’t help an album that runs this long in terms of its pacing or progression. Not to say that there aren’t high points in this regard; the moment that guitar solo kicks in on “Outta Time” is probably one of my favorite musical moments of the year thus far. And between the galloping, glistening sheen of “Daytona Sand” and “C’mon Baby, Cry” and the blend of harmonica and strings that plays well to the fantastic progression of “Kalahari Down,” there are certainly others.
Like with Peck’s past projects, however, it’s the writing that’s mostly holding me from loving this more. The majority of these songs deal in reminiscing on faded relationships or ones about to implode, and Peck always paints in broad strokes with very loose details connecting the dots, which helps the aforementioned dramatic appeal, but never seems to fully form any of his stories individually. And that doesn’t help a project that’s surprisingly muted in places, suffers from pacing issues, and could use a bit more diversity in tone as a whole.
“Kalahari Down” is probably the one track here to flesh out its details a bit more and strike that happy balance between grounded and dramatic excellently, but you’ll also get cuts that feel confined to the retro gimmick and stand in the shadows of past influences, like the thuddingly on-the-nose ‘50s-inspired pop of “Blush” that’s not quite as bouncy as it should be, the homage to “I’ve Been Everywhere” in “Any Turn” that feels like a pure throwaway cut, or the folk-like ramblings of “Hexie Mountains” that Peck can’t really sell as a performer or writer. And considering this project really loses steam by its final third and only comes back around on “All I Can Say,” Bronco feels really well-executed in places and undercooked in others. Again, if you’re familiar with the style, you’ll know what you’re getting into right off the bat and whether it’ll connect with you or not. But I’m still hoping for a bit more out of Peck.
- Favorite tracks: “Outta Time,” “Daytona Sand,” “C’mon Baby, Cry,” “Kalahari Down,” “All I Can Say”
- Least favorite track: “Hexie Mountains”
- Favorite individual moment: That final minute or so of “Outta Time.”