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 albums of 2019: The honourable mentions (aka #10 through #6)

Good morning everyone! And happy Tuesday!

It is that time of year again. The end of the year lists have started flying about and some brave souls have even delved back to try to come up with their favourites of the decade. You won’t count me among those attacking such a daunting task. I had a hard enough time narrowing down my favourite albums of the year to ten this time around. Indeed, for me, it was a weird year in that besides perhaps the number one and two albums, I didn’t have consensus favourites. I had no preconceived notions, really, of what this list would look like before sorting through all the albums to which I have devoted time this year. And yeah, there were lots of them.

Still, I’ve been doing my own end of year lists for so long (many others have been generated before even the two others on these pages) that I’ve almost got this process down to an art. For the two previous years, I did these posts on Fridays but decided to change things up this time and by methodical calculation, determined that to wrap things up with a final post with my favourite album on the final day of the year, Tuesdays would be the day of the week of choice for this series. As always, I am starting things off with an ‘honourable mentions’ post, this post, listing out albums 10 through 6, and will countdown my favourite five albums, one each week, for the next five. Of course, I’ve cheated a bit with my photo at the top of this post. It shows four additional albums from 2019, albums in my vinyl collection that won’t appear in the list but bear mention nonetheless. A sort of honourable, honourable mentions, if that makes sense.

Of course, as we go through these albums, I welcome your comments and thoughts and perhaps even your own top ten favourites in the space provided below.

Here we go.


#10 Chromatics “Closer to grey”

I don’t know where my head was back in 2012 because when I listened to Chromatics’ fourth album, “Kill for love”, I thought it was… just okay. Well, that was so seven years ago and I am quite enthralled with their fifth album, this one. Seven years may seem like a long time between albums and in this day and age, it’s an eternity, but the group has not quite been inactive. There’s been some EPs and singles in the meantime and also an aborted album that might still see the light of day. But here we are now and “Closer to grey” is dark and breathless noir cinema, set provocatively in the middle of a sweaty 80s rave club. And yeah, the Simon & Garfunkel and Jesus and Mary Chain covers are spot on.

Gateway tune: You’re no good


#9 Elva “Winter sun”

I thought it a shame when I heard Allo Darlin’ were calling it quits in 2016. They had released a handful of excellent twee/indie pop records based upon the songwriting and vocals of frontwoman Elizabeth Morris. Then, because I followed that band on Twitter, I heard tell that Morris had formed a new band with her husband, Ola Innset, who happened to be a veteran of the Norwegian music scene. “Winter sun” is this new group’s debut and is also quite lovely. Morris shares equally the songwriting and vocal duties with Innset, adding an interesting dynamic that is taken further by mixing up quieter acoustic songs with louder, full band jams.

Gateway tune: Athens


#8 The Twilight Sad “It won/t be like this all the time”

I’ve been following Scottish post-punk quintet, The Twilight Sad, for their last few albums and can safely say that this fifth album of theirs is my favourite so far. That I’ve truthfully said that for each of their successive albums shows how great a band they are still in the process of becoming. A mind-blowing proposition, indeed. The music is dark, bleak, punishing, and yet, somehow, uplifting at the same time. James Graham’s intense lyrical delivery seems somehow more haunting given his thick accent and throws tons of weight behind Andy MacFarlane’s music.

Gateway tune: I/m not here [missing face]


#7 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Ghosteen”

Okay. So it’s taken me a lifetime to get into Nick Cave’s music. This is not an exaggeration. I tried many times over the years because I’ve always loved his lyrics. He just doesn’t make it easy. His seventeenth album, “Ghosteen”, isn’t any less than trying, beautiful, yes, but very difficult. If I hadn’t already succeeded with the start of the trilogy cycle of which this album is the final chapter, this album would likely not be appearing here. As it is, I don’t see myself necessarily slipping this on everyday, nor are there a lot of tracks that I could single out as, well, singles. However, “Ghosteen” is a very excellent album. Cave very much still has the power to surprise and to move us. The music here is synth heavy, augmented orchestral pieces and his normal narrative lyrics and deep baritone vocals have both been turned on their head. The results are haunting, to say the least.

Gateway tune: Bright horses


#6 The Soft Calvary “The Soft Calvary”

Like the Elva album above, here’s another project by an artist I like, working with her spouse, but in this case it feels like it’s more his labour of love with her support rather than a full-on collaboration. The Soft Calvary is Steve Clark working with Rachel Goswell of Slowdive and Mojave 3 (and a bunch of their recent projects). He takes the lead for the most part, writing most of the material, while Rachel adds her lovely, ethereal voice to the proceedings and sings lead on one track. The production is crisp and the effects give most of the album an otherworldly feel. The songs are well-written and stick with you well after you press stop or lift the needle. I love it.

Gateway tune: Bulletproof


Check back next Tuesday 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.