Orville Peck Credit: Courtesy the Artist

The first thing to know about Orville Peck is that the Canadian country-pop crooner always wears a mask. Its top half is made of leather, and from the bottom hangs a row of long fringe, which he sometimes braids to each side to reveal his scruffy chin—his memorable look is something like a cross between the Lone Ranger and a BDSM enthusiast. Peck has risen to the top of the current yeehaw zeitgeist with his own brand of tender queer longing, and the 12 atmospheric songs on his debut album, 2019’s Pony, tell stories about fading rodeo queens, ill-fated love affairs, and the way time wears people down like an old bootheel. He’s as much Lana Del Rey as Roy Orbison, his self-made myth of cowboy swagger cribbed more from old movies than from reality. Behind Peck’s baritone voice and twangy guitars are sound effects that might’ve been borrowed from a Wild West theme park: cracking whips, whistling, gunshots, and rushing wind. But while those elements of frontier fantasy might initially hook listeners, Pony goes much deeper than gimmicks. On “Hope to Die,” for instance, Peck sums up the sting of an old heartbreak with a succinctness and simplicity that enhance the song’s dreamy, melancholy vibe: “I’m still undone / Not quite young.” Though Peck paints himself as a tall tale—a lone figure outlined in neon and coated in highway dust—he conjures emotions that feel very real.   v