Enigmatic country singer Orville Peck always wanted to be Mercutio

The masked man at the other end of this Skype conversation tells me that Orville Peck has always been around. He says there’s a photograph of the artist as a seven-year-old boy — Jurassic Park t-shirt on his torso, Stetson on his head, handkerchief over his face. That kid was unknowingly playing an antihero, a reluctant savior, an outcast. He was becoming a cowboy. “I never really understood why anybody would want to play Romeo when you could play Mercutio,” he says, the long fringe on his brown leather mask rattling back and forth and revealing glimpses of a stubbled, military jawline.

Orville Peck’s first album, Pony, is out via Sub Pop on March 22, and it’s premiering in full below. It’s a country record, built out of broken-glass heartbreak, tearful melodies, and sweeping, deserted drama, wandering from one blackened torch song to the next. Here, Peck sings about longing, meanness, and impossible loneliness in a harrowing baritone. He reaches back into the canon — towards Roy Orbison’s solitude and Johnny Cash’s outlaw fiction and Merle Haggard’s confessional verse — earnestly and in good faith. He grapples with life as an outsider, singing about sleepless nights in a “stark, hollow town” on opener “Dead of Night” before willing himself out of resentment on the excitable “Turn to Hate.” But he falls into despair and disrepair. “Kansas (Remembers Me Now),” an elegy that could have crackled out of an FM radio 70 years ago, leads into a stunning second half, crushed under the weight of the noise on “Old River,” the menace on “Big Sky,” and, eventually, the agony of the closing ballad, “Nothing Fades Like The Light.”

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