With every breath, Orville Peck evokes the tortured spirit of such classics as Townes Van Zandt and Johnny Cash. Across his work 一 an EP and two full-length records 一 he transports the audience into a strange and surreal wonderland.
Holler takes a gander at his body of work to determine his Top 15 best songs.
Peck draws you into a country-teased surf song about a cowboy’s trek from Mississippi to Daytona, Florida. ‘Daytona Sand’ grinds hard into the dirt, kicking up dust bowl swirls akin to Beach Boys. On the bridge, he curls in reflections about depression, “I'm gettin’ tired of this earth, but they say some stones are better left unturned.”
“I knew I'd never see you again,” Peck howls at the moon. A heart torn in half, he weeps for a decision to sever romance for career ambitions. “Had a lover but I lost my patience,” he opens. Later, he buckles beneath the weight of time: “Don't it make you cry, how we're getting older?”
‘City of Gold’ cries with primal yearning. Peck longs for his youth in South Africa, namely Johannesburg, famously known as a City of Gold. “You might think that I'm strange but I come with a pain of a man scorned again and again,” he heaves upon his guitar.
Heartbreak wrecks a person. Only ruin remains. Peck sculpts the remnants of his heart into a majestic art piece called ‘Hope to Die.’ He’s in deep mourning, yet his mind replays the bright spots again and again. But he’s “still undone,” he sings. He even crosses “my heart, now I hope to die…”
Peck dedicates ‘Kalahari Down,’ originally written for his 2019 debut Pony, to his hometown in South Africa. It’s a lonesome, heart-wrenching piece of music. In Orville fashion, his voice wanders around the melody, steeped in the guilt crushing his brain. “Better off alone if you ask me,” he sings.
A steed-like gallop sets the tone, and Peck spins his caramel voice around ‘Lafayette.’ Seated perfectly on the melody, the cowboy songwriter harkens to his time in New Orleans. “You know I recall somebody saying, ‘Therе ain't no cowboys left,’” he considers. In drawing upon marabi music, he sculpts something entirely fresh.
Moments pass like summertime, fleeing little things that soundtrack our lives. Peck muses on past relationships and life’s ephemeral habits, singing, “Askin' where the time's gone / Dreamin' with the lights on.” The arrangement pins his vocals somewhere between time’s two hands, leaving him wistful and wilted.
The days rush passed on their way to the next. ‘Trample Out the Days’ is Peck’s declaration to make the most of even the most mundane occurrences. “Flash a smile while the traffic slows / Take a seat while I trample out the days,” he pledges.
A self-described loner, Peck pours resentment into ‘Turn to Hate,’ as a way to cathartically exorcise it from his mind. “Don't leave, don't cry / You're just another boy caught in the rye,” he dissects the emotional thread. Landing on the outside-looking-in, he vows to never let the solitude destroy his insides.
Pecks sends up ‘Queen of the Rodeo’ as a moving tribute to LGBTQ+ and two-spirit people. Lives working and performing on ranches and rodeos burn bright and fast, as Peck laments on the chorus, “You rode on in with nowhere else to go / You know the tune so the words don't matter.”
Whether it’s depression or addiction, demons are inescapable. ‘The Curse of the Blackened Eye’ sees Peck use humor to unravel the relentless creeping that occurs in the darkest corners of the mind. “Acting out the opus of your last eternal ache,” he admits. “Boy, just sing the song for heaven's sake.”
Opening 2019’s Pony, ‘Dead of Night’ flicks like candle light. It’s a swirling mass of romance on a star-decorated path. Two lovers forever intertwined. “See the boys as they walk on by,” sings Peck, a torch performance enough to ignite the soul. “It’s enough to make a young man…” he then trails off.
With ‘Iris Rose,’ Peck tip-toes across a delicate tight-rope, cobbled together from his frayed heartstrings. Death hangs like a black cloud, imposing and deceptively serene, and he’s left with only ghosts haunting his mind. “Think about you nearly еvery day,” he admits. “Dream a lot and it starts to sting.”
“Been finding it hard to be kind,” Peck confides. Piano and strings weep alongside lyrics that confront his struggle with depression. During the pandemic, things, it seemed, worsened for him. “Baby, I can be the one you drown tonight,” he wails. It’s a thunderous, timeless performance.
There are those friendships that define our lives. With ‘Kids,’ Peck revisits his younger days and a close friend with whom he rode out every storm. “Runnin' out into the night / Starry boots and open eyes, yeah,” he whispers into the sky. “You told me to shut my mouth, and to my surprise, neither one of us has died.”
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