Credit: Julia Johnson
by Jonathan Keefe Music Rooted & Restless

Orville Peck — Bronco

May 30, 2022

Orville Peck’s sophomore album Bronco proves he isn’t just a sideshow gimmick — he’s in on the joke. 

Because he’s released a continuous stream of new material over the last three years, Orville Peck made it perhaps too easy to forget that Bronco is officially his sophomore album. Preceded earlier this year by two EPs, Bronco Ch1 and Ch2, the album nonetheless manages to surprise, both in terms of previously unreleased content and, more importantly, in the clarity of Peck’s artistic vision. The album succeeds in largely the same ways as two other pivotal sophomore country albums: The Chicks’ Fly and Miranda Lambert’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. What Peck offers on Bronco is a dead-on assessment of everything that worked well about his debut, 2019’s Pony, and has leaned hard into those strengths while downplaying the elements that detracted, resulting in an album that teems with confidence. In Peck’s specific case, that means doubling down on the artifice of his persona: The unabashedly queer perspective performed in a hyper-masculine aesthetic that’s as much of a type of drag as is his masked-cowboy image.

The title track is an exercise in outsized self-mythologizing and self-aggrandizement, as Peck extols his inability to be contained or broken over a raucous bit of vintage surf-rock laced with pedal steel. “Blush” and “Iris Rose” play with country archetype of looking back on past exploits, set within an aesthetic that draws heavily from the “Outlaw” country era, with a sexual frankness that is both purposeful and self-conscious. A couplet like, “But spare me a thought if you got me hard / I know you had one deep inside,” could have been the setup for an easy joke, but Peck follows it by immediately redirecting back to a familiar trope, proclaiming, “I don’t miss you that much, but baby watchin’ you blush / Well, some of us just, we just gotta ride.” Bronco — and Peck’s entire persona, for that matter — could easily be reduced to an arch piss-take were the artist less skilled. But what songs like “Hexie Mountain” and the gorgeous power ballad “C’mon Baby, Cry” repeatedly illustrate is that Peck’s genre savvy runs deep. And like many of country’s most significant artists — and what he’s doing here is a piece with what the likes of Cash, Parton, Haggard, and yes, The Chicks and Lambert — Peck understands that artifice can be the whole point, so long as that artifice is deployed in ways that are believable and consistent. With Bronco, Peck affirms that he’s fully in on and in control of the joke of being a cowboy crooner in a fringed mask and how that’s just a means to a far greater end.

Published as part of Album Roundup — April 2022 | Part 3.