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The genre of country music is as great as the wide West American prairie, whose atmosphere is unmistakably anchored in that very music, immensely large and versatile. From the traditional Americana Country rooted in Nashville to Outlaw Country, which deliberately separates itself from the trivialized rest and offers tragic, heartbreaking and above all honest confessions in music form that bluntly reflects the lawless lives of these regions. Johnny Cash, with his rebellious attitude, was a pioneer of this movement, Willie Nelson is, among others, is also a prominent representative of this genre.
In 2022, Orville Peck is probably the biggest and most mysterious representative of Outlaw Country, with just two full-length players and an EP in his bag, as well as completely independent cover versions of iconic songs such as "Smalltown Boy" by Bronski Beat and "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga. The crazy cowboy with a mask gallops to the hearts of American critics, he even got featured in soundtracks of movies and TV shows.
The mask in question is the most characteristic feature of Orville Peck besides his fervent and commanding voice, an impetuous mix of bank robber mask and fetish object, which makes sense in view of this art figure, because Orville Peck is an ambassador of the LGBTQ+ community. He openly and with an unprecedented ease turns his queerness into his artistic weapon of choice.
It is precisely his sexual orientation that makes him a rebel within a musical culture that has been guided by patriarchal ideals for decades and created an image of a heteronormative man, whom he denounces with his undeniable talent, especially with the help of the scene's own symbolism and gestures, which proves a sophisticated move on the part of Orville Peck, whose musical alter ego seems to be grabbing the world of country by the horns. A highly topical theme and sensibility that runs through his work, but who is the man behind the mask?
Who is behind the intensely luminous eyes is not known and shall remain so. He is only known to be Canadian, who spent his childhood and youth in South Africa and in his past played the drums in some punk bands before reinventing himself and creating the character of Orville Peck. The mystery surrounding his enduring anonymity helps to establish him as the modern mouthpiece of Outlaw Country and to stir up a lot of dust within the genre.
His melancholic ballads about unfulfilled same-sex love in a Neo - Western setting go as deep under the skin as his faster numbers about limitless life outside of any authority, which are performed with enormous vigor. The voice behind the mask is the crucial component that carries the entire construct through different sound palettes, Shoegaze-inspired introspective tracks such as "Dead Of Night" to crashing country anthems such as "Legends Never Die", for which none other than Shania Twain as co - conspirator sits by his side.
Orville Peck has since 2019, despite his very limited catalogue of music, with the appearance of his first opus "Pony" as an insider tip, turned into an absolute superstar in the US within just three years. How could this happen so quickly? His deeply touching voice with remarkable vocal range is an obvious reason in the land of the King, since a certain vocal parallel to Elvis is not to be dismissed. However, the voice also remains strong and unique without any needless comparisons to be drawn, as it should for a real outlaw.
Another aspect is his artistic vision, from costuming to staging all music videos and a deep respect for the country lifestyle play a huge role in the raging success of the queer outlaw. His style points to an unmistakable sense of aesthetics, with dozens of different variations of his unique appearance with eloquent attention to detail, which is particularly evident in the Plethora of his music videos.
Directly with the first video for "Dead of Night" from his debut, Orville Peck presents himself as a rodeo champion conjuring up a dark basic mood, featuring a colourful mixture of dazzling personalities which make you think of an experimental Neo – Western over the course of the video. That´s how strong the the neon - drenched colour palettes are dazzling, a motif that keeps reoccurring, as for example recently for one of the singles from the current album "Bronco" "C´mon Baby, Cry".
Stylish and excellent recordings take each of his produced videos beyond most country performers on a technical level alone, and the first-class images portray a world that has become unhinged and is home to a collection of eccentric and oblique characters. The great expanse of the American West is not to be forgotten, with which Peck´s elegance set a moving musical monument and once again puts cowboys in a mysterious and above all cool light.
The development of Orville Peck as an artist within three years is extremely rapid, a certain maturation process can be heard from "Pony" to "Bronco", which is a clear announcement, since Bronco is the name for a semi-wild horse. This evolution happens completely consciously, yet he remains true to his style and message. His voice echoes an eerie melancholy, since Peck is simply a gay man amidst a world of overflowing homophobia, inside - and outside of country music, and simply because he had to experience much pain and suffering, an experience that unites many LGBTQ+ members and contributes to the authentic manner of Peck's music. Instead of poignantly dealing with these sensitive contents, Orville Peck masterfully manages to weave them into the DNA of his music and thereby delicately avoids any clichés and thus creates a figure who is not lacking in cultural relevance, ironic undertones as well as haunting musicality.
Although Orville Peck sets much-needed new accents with his charisma and recognition value within country's traditional culture, the role and influence that country plays and exercises over popular music should not be ignored. Many are describing the entire genre as a product from rednecks, which can or do not want to participate in social progressivity and represent regression.
This is not the case at all, because Johnny Cash alone is regarded as one of the most important and influential artists in country and a pioneer in the development of rock´n´roll, and pop culture is filled with a myriad of Johnny Cash products. In general, this particular style of music is known for brutally honest songs straight from the soul and not displaying any false shame, while comparatively the German pop culture gives the impression that everything presented is happy, even melancholy-looking pieces sound jovially distorted. Honesty is an enormous component of every artist's recipe for success.
Precisely with this attitude toward honesty in mind, the music that Orville Peck presents us works seamlessly. From the largely depressed mood on "Pony", only occasionally replaced by brisk, danceable numbers, yet remaining bleak in the lyrical content, to the enormous "Bronco", where even more influences develop into a very mature complete work. The journey of the lonely Desperado continues logically and consistently. Both albums, including the EP from 2020 called "Show Pony", offer varied adventures for the ears, and do not feature any weak link; each song has at least one special quality and seems to have been prepared with great care and attention to detail. Orville Peck is an absolute recommendation for any country grouches and die-hard fans alike, for he is the stuff that makes really great art.
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Originally published on January 31, 2023, updated on January 31, 2023