Best albums of 2019: #5 Orville Peck “Pony”

I didn’t want to like Orville Peck when I first listened to him, especially when I learned that the cover art to his debut album, “Pony”, wasn’t just that, but an actual portrait photo. And to be honest, I didn’t think that much of it at first listen, quirky, yes, but also kitschy. With each successive listen, though, I delved deeper into the lyrics and the aesthetic that Peck is creating and yeah, it grew on me. Then, I saw him perform with his band at CityFolk back in the fall and the deal was sealed.

Orville Peck is a stage name. He wears a mask – all the time. He has worked to keep his real identity a secret but given our collective curious nature, we have tried to out him. The little information he has released in interviews, that he has toured quite a bit with punk bands, and that he is from the west coast of Canada, has music writers feeling sure that they have identified him. Peck has never confirmed, nor denied, and I won’t give the suspected name here.

I’d say that it should be the music that’s important but Peck has created an image here, a brand of sorts. A Lone Ranger mask with a long fringe, the ever present cowboy hats, and clothing that ranges from garish and sparkly to rough-hewn but slightly fey. He sings songs with a voice Roy Orbison would be proud of about cowboys, the whistles and plodding bass lines only slightly covering up that he is actually subverting the traditional idea of the cowboy. I remember seeing an exchange on social media between Peck and some critical troll sneering that he wasn’t country, perhaps pointing to the invasion of indie and dream pop sounds on the rodeo. And Peck merely scoffed about the troll being head of the “country police”.

All that to say, “Pony” is quite the debut that has turned a lot of heads, not just for the enigma, but also the obvious talent. Have a listen to my three picks for you below and see what you think.


“Dead of night”: The opening track sets the mood and tone from the beginning. “Dead of night” starts with a lonely guitar intro and finishes with a jaunty banjo outro, calling to mind singing cowboy balladry, full moons, cactus and tumbleweed, coyotes and yodelling, the bonfire at night while the trusty steed is tied a ways away. A lonely remembering of a travelling companion that might’ve been more than just friends, a worried outlaw. “The sun goes down, another dreamless night. You’re right by my side, you wake me up, you say it’s time to ride in the dead of night.” Forlorn and haunting.

“Turn to hate”: A song about being on the outside of things, an outlaw, a migrant cowboy, a musician constantly tour, wearing a mask or otherwise. “Walking out towards the gate. You’ll all be stars, now just you wait, done enough to take the bait. Don’t let my sorrow turn to hate.” It builds from a quiet, almost whispery intro to something of a barn burner, guitars a-flashing, boots a-jumping, and Peck’s by now well-worn vocals warmed up and on a tear. He’s trying not to let the isolation get to him but it’s hard. He just wants it all to be okay. And damned if it doesn’t feel great.

“Big sky”: It all starts with that big and vaunted guitar again, Peck singing gently against it with the pluck of banjo and the shake of a rattlesnake. He is out on the desert plain, alone on his horse, nothing but the wind, the echo, and the huge expanse all around him. There’s something menacing about all the quiet, as if his backing band is made up of ghosts, the ghosts of relationships past. “Fell in love with a rider, dirt king, black crown.” He sings all of this with passion and hurt and a bit of his angsty punk showing. Indeed, it doesn’t quite feel like he’s crying in his beer, does it?


Check back next Tuesday for album #4. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Chromatics “Closer to grey”
9. Elva “Winter sun”
8. The Twilight Sun “It won/t be like this all the time”
7. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Ghosteen”
6. The Soft Calvary “The Soft Calvary”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Vinyl love: Piroshka “Brickbat”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: Piroshka
Album Title: Brickbat
Year released: 2019
Details: black vinyl, hand screen-printed sleeve, signed postcard

The skinny: Just this past Tuesday, I started counting down my favourite albums of the year with my traditional ‘honourable mentions’ post, focusing on albums ten through six on my list. At the top of that post, I did a bit of a cheat by sharing a photo of four records that didn’t quite make the top ten, but that bore mentioning nonetheless, and one of these was this very album: “Brickbat” by Piroshka. Fans of Lush, Moose, Modern English, and Elastica should take note, that is, if they already haven’t. This is a supergroup, though the members would have you believing otherwise, made up pieces of those very bands, and this resulting debut sounds a bit like each and like none of them at the same time. For me, the album was a grower and am now glad that I pulled the trigger early, ordering a vinyl copy direct from Bella Union, and doing so early enough to get the limited edition hand-printed sleeve and autographed postcard. Yeah, a sweet score all round.

Standout track: “Everlastingly yours”

Best tunes of 2011: #4 Austra “Lose it”

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Have you ever listened to and enjoyed an album up to a point but then, after seeing the band perform its songs live, it’s suddenly your favourite (at that moment) album? Well, it’s happened to me… a number of times. And one of these was with Austra’s debut album, “Feel it break”, after seeing their incendiary performance at Ritual Nightclub on December 3rd, 2011.

If you’ve not heard of them before, Austra is a three-piece band from Toronto, Canada, whose moniker was taken from the middle name of the petite lead singer and front woman, Katie Stelmanis. The other two members of the band are drummer Maya Postepski (also of TR/ST) and Dorian Wolf on bass. When I saw them live, they were joined onstage by a keyboard player and the Lightman twins (from Tasseomancy) singing backup. However and with apologies to her bandmates, this project is really about Stelmanis, a classically trained singer who found a love for electronic music, which explains the seemingly boundless vocal range.

While listening, if you can tear yourself away from just the vocals for a moment and realize there is backing music, you might hear a strong resemblance to the sounds Depeche Mode was making during their darker periods in the late 80s and early 90s (see albums “Music for the masses” and “Violator”). And it’s not just her use of synthesizers that make me say this but also her use of the minor key. Kate Stelmanis has admitted a love for writing music in minor keys, which is something of which Depeche Mode’s principal songwriter, Martin Gore, was also fond.

“Lose it” is easily my favourite track of many fantastic songs on “Feel it break” and most probably the catchiest of the lot. Starting off with a cool robotic sound that mixes European industrial with that aforementioned early Depeche Mode, the song jumps up a notch when Katie Austra Stelmanis adds her lush vocals and you’re just thinking how amazing she is and then she blows that away again with the chorus.

So if you’re up for some new-wave inspired electronic tunes, I highly recommend giving “Lose it” a listen. It’s especially excellent for enjoying through earphones.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.