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.

Best albums of 2018: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Happy Friday, November 23rd everyone! Black Friday, to boot. And happy belated Thanksgiving to our American friends!

Yep, it’s that time of year again. The best of the year lists are going to start pouring in from all over. It was actually around this time last year that I kicked off my Best Albums series with an end of the year list for 2017. I then travelled back in time through the decades, with stops at 2007, 1997, and finally, 1987 (you can find all of these completed lists here). It was a fun exercise and I’ll endeavour to do the same over the next year, starting with this 2018 list.

The drill is this. You’ll get albums ten through six, a sort of honourable mentions collection, today, and then, I’ll run through my top five albums of the year over the next five Fridays. If all goes well, the number one album will be revealed on the final Friday of the year.

For 2018, you’ll likely find that my list won’t resemble many of the lists from the real music sites. In fact, if you’re hoping for spoilers in the photo at the top of this post, you’ll be disappointed. None of those albums will appear in this series. As I get older, I find my tastes don’t line up as often with what is hip and new. I did check out a few of the buzz bands and some of them were quite good (hello, Shame and Starcrawler), just not top ten good in my opinion. And well, the ten albums that will make up this list may not be everyone else’s best. But they’re mine.

As always, I welcome hearing your own favourites and thoughts on my choices in the comments section of each post.

Let’s get started…


#10 David Byrne “American utopia”

To be honest, the only reason this album made this list at all is because I got to see the former Talking Heads frontman this fall at Ottawa’s CityFolk festival. I had only given “American utopia” a cursory glance prior to the festival and wasn’t even sure I would stay for his whole set because of a scheduling conflict with another artist but I was glad, in the end, that I did. His was probably one of my favourite sets in recent years and I’ve been listening to this album regularly ever since, it growing in my esteem with each play. Yes, it’s varied in sound but not in theme. For his first solo album in fourteen years, Byrne is as fresh and quirky and intelligent as he ever has been.

Gateway tune: Everybody’s coming to my house


#9 James “Living in extraordinary times”

As some of you may undoubtedly already know, I’ve been a pretty big James fan for a couple of decades now but the appearance of their fifteenth (!!!) studio album here has nothing to do with loyalty. In fact, I wasn’t much of a fan of their last album, 2016’s “Girl at the end of the world”, as a whole, disagreeing with a bunch of people who made it the band’s highest charting album to date. “Living in extraordinary times” is at times as big as the best of James’s hit singles but it also has its quiet moments. At its core, though, it’s an album that has Tim Booth and band trying to find a forward in these crazy times, with more than a few nods and kicks at the current US president.

Gateway tune: Coming home (pt. 2)


#8 The Limiñanas “Shadow people”

Okay. So I had never heard of this band before this year. I don’t even remember how I originally came across their sixth studio album, “Shadow people”, but i know it hooked me from the beginning. It took some doing to figure out what they were about, including reading a Wikipedia entry written in French. My French is improving but far from perfect. Still, I was able to ascertain that they are a duo, Lionel and Marie, indeed from France, that were performing in other groups for many years, before forming The Liminanas in 2009. This latest album checked a lot of my boxes with its droning and driving psychedelia and then mixing it with laid back and cool Serge Gainsbourg sounds. That it includes contributions by Anton Newcombe and Peter Hook is just topping on the cake. I can’t wait to dig into their earlier work.

Gateway tune: Istanbul is sleepy


#7 The Essex Green “Hardly electronic”

For a band that hasn’t worked together in over a decade and an album whose players reside in three different states, The Essex Green and their fourth studio album, “Hardly electronic”, sound pretty slick indeed. I got into this group after seeing them open for Camera Obscura in 2007 and bought their album “Cannibal sea” based on their performance. I have now been salivating while listening to that album and waiting over eleven years for new material. Now that’s in my hands and spinning on my turntable, I am not disappointed in the least. They picked up the 60s and 70s inspired indie pop right where they left it and they quite possibly might have improved on their sound in the intervening years. Hopefully, it’s not another decade before we get album number five.

Gateway tune: The 710


#6 Colter Wall “Songs of the plains”

Who is this Colter Wall? He definitely does not sound of this time and place, singing somber and slow-burning numbers about the plight of the plainsmen in the 1800s and the legend of Wild Bill Hickok. Amazing, then, that this kid is but 23 and hails from Saskatchewan, Canada. It was my brother Mike that alerted me to him when he saw his name on the lineup for Ottawa’s CityFolk festival. His was definitely one of the highlight sets of the festival for me. Not only are his songs well written and of a different sensibility in today’s pop world but Wall has a voice that has been compared to the likes of Johnny Cash, though I for one would say it is even more profound than that. This is his sophomore album and builds upon the fantastic work laid out on last year’s fine debut. I think we’ll be hearing lots from him in the coming years.

Gateway tune: Saskatchewan in 1881


Check back next Friday for album #5 on this list. In the meantime, you can check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.