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Important New Album Reviews: 'Bronco' by Orville Peck; 'Dance Fever' by Florence And The Machine & 'Avec Les Yeux' by Fishbach

By Alberto Cox Délano | Music | August 16, 2022 |

By Alberto Cox Délano | Music | August 16, 2022 |


OrvillePeckDanceFlorenceMachineFishbach2.jpg

If you think the age of streaming has made it hard to keep up with the avalanche of “content” available to watch, imagine how it is with music (though music does have the advantage of being something you can listen to while doing other things). That’s why I’m bringing you three LPs that could easily qualify for the year’s Top 10, as we are soon to reach two-thirds in 2022’s progress bar. Also, I’m doing these three at once because I kept postponing getting down to writing them and now it’s too late to mill them into three separate reviews. And also, there’s more than one thing they have in common aesthetically and thematically. Sort of. This is a story about a Queer Masked Cowboy, A Celtic Witch, and a Norman Witch.

Bronco: Why isn’t Orville Peck the King of Nashville right now?

I mean, the answer is obvious: Orville Peck is openly gay, the longing in his lyrics is openly about men and his identity is concealed behind a Lone Ranger-style mask with fringes. Of course, that would be too hard to process for an industry as backwards as Country.

Their loss.

Because Bronco might well be the most beautiful record of the year. His follow-up to 2019’s Pony, Bronco is also a product of the pandemic, just like my Multitude, my favorite of the year. But while Multitude is a balancing act between life-affirming optimism and our newly minted critical-thinking skills, Bronco dives straight into longing, depression and our need to just get out there and seek emotional or physical connections, in whatever order. Orville, like all country singers that actually matter, has that Booming, fill-the-Monument-Valley-without-amplification voice that somehow still can convey vulnerability and nuance, because he’s also a terrific, story-telling lyricist.

Honestly, I don’t care much for Country, other than the classics, because for those of us who are not from the US (or white Anglos, the genre is hugely popular in Australia, Canada, and Orville’s native South Africa), Country is not an inviting genre compared to every single other American music genre. It’s the complete opposite to what happens to the Western genre in film, if the former has become one of the US’ core cultural exports, Country music has simply been too American, too White, and too insular for the global audience to care much about. Compare it to Folk, Bob Dylan alone has had a bigger impact outside the US than the entirety of Nashville. And it’s only gotten worse over the last decade: Not counting its female stars, who are on a whole other level (and disregarded by the gatekeepers), Country music has devolved into a genre pandering to … well, the same base that voted for the former guy. In doing so, we’re flooded with listicle Country, those songs with guys affecting a twang and lyrics that only list Country stuff, on repeat, Xerox of a Xerox. Country music turned to the South, the GOP’s idea of the South, instead of facing the country.

Orville Peck could well be its savior because his music turns West, the actual heart and soul of Country. It’s been a while since I’ve heard an album that sounds as Big as Bronco, one that is so inviting you cannot but lower your emotional defenses and let yourself be moved. It’s also a record that wants to tell you stories, once Country’s bread and butter. This record alone should’ve made Orville Peck the Reigning King of Country, he could certainly lead a new Nashville, one that could actually have the world instead of being contented with red states and red counties.

Our Win. Do Listen on Tidal in Master quality.

(Also, did I mention Peck’s voice is virile af? I mean it in the sense he sounds like The Fuckin Man, and not like a dweeb, upper-middle class fratboy).

Dance Fever: Florence And The Machine will have their roots back.

Being among the best artists of your generation is a waiting game because almost without fail, it means you will never be among the top five of anything during the early phases of your career, mostly in terms of sales, but also in terms of your presence in the conversation. Being what is undeniably a rock band is also not a boost in a decade where the entire format is dominated by legacy acts. But then, as the years pass and more and more people take notice of your consistency (and conveniently ignore the things they were actually listening to), they will vote you in as a true representative of your times, whichever they are. Florence & The Machine is such an act, because they also sound nothing like the music of the 2010s or 2020s. I guess you could say they would’ve ruled over the 70s, but also in the 1800s. Or the 1300s. Or that period between the Romans leaving Britain and the Anglo-Saxon migrations.

While 2018s High As Hope felt like a (Great) coda to a trilogy of albums that were each better than the last, a more subdued affair where Florence Welch had closure over her own demons, Dance Fever sounds like a witch on a warpath to conquer new territory and kick out those annoying Christian missionaries from her lands. We should clarify that we very much identify with witches on a warpath towards resurrecting paganism. Florence’s talent is in making the introspective and personal almost epic, much like Orville Peck, in how she can range from the subtle to the grand with her booming voice. But unlike other albums, her lyrics are now more targeted and more self-effacing, case in point in “Girls Against God” or “Choreomania”. At the same time, they are also more self-assured than ever without ever crossing into bullshit girlboss territory (“King” or “Daffodil”).

Dance Fever is imbued with imagery of new cycles starting, and it works in the musical arrangement. Nothing much has changed about Florence & The Machine’s sound, but unlike High As Hope, it does not feel like a retread but as an act feeling confident in its aesthetic and innovating within it, this time gravitating more towards Rock and drum-based palettes. Florence & The Machine is one of the few Rock acts in this century that managed to seamlessly embrace Pop without watering down the Rock part of it, a misstep that turns you into … well, Coldplay. And that’s what makes them so bloody timeless; they sound like something from a past that never really existed, but they also don’t sound completely out of place within our musical landscape.

Avec Les Yeux: Don’t call Fishbach’s second album a throwback, we’re all in a throwback.

In today’s episode “let’s get acquainted with France’s musical scene because everything they do is so much better than the Anglo market,” meet Flora Fishbach, an actress and singer from Normandy, the reverse of Southern England. She broke into France’s indie scene with 2017s A Ta Merci (At your mercy), a gothic-infused album carved in the sounds of France’s new wave and late 80s, early 90s sound. And while every female singer since the 80s has inherited something from Kate Bush, French-speaking singers also have their own mother priestess, one Mylène Farmer, of whom I cannot say much because Madonna’s stans will try put a hit on me. Just check her yourself. Her second outing Avec Les Yeaux (“With the eyes”) further dips into the sound of that transition between decades, but she’s not here to mine nostalgia. In a recent interview, Rina Sawayama claimed that she picks and chooses sounds that are not from our current time in order to avoid sounding dated, which sounds contradictory but makes a whole lot of sense: You’re just turning a sound into recognizable motifs, freeing yourself to experiment with new blends. Fishbach’s new album does that, but she works with a palette that is unequivocally from the late 80s and early 90s, and in this case, it is also a work of cultural revival and maintenance, because the end-of-decade new wave coalesced into a gorgeous sound that was richer but also darker, truly gloomier than its early 80s counterparts. It’s a sound that we should’ve never left behind as a society and one that I hope will become as classical and undying as a blues guitar lick or the four chords in an acoustic guitar.

Fishbach’s contralto voice is one that is rich in range but does not sound vulnerable, something which we need more of in female-fronted projects. Fishbach is a dark witch to Florence Welch’s … red witch across the Channel, and we very much identify here with dark witches who happened to be born in the same town as Arthur Rimbaud.

I was listening to the LPs early singles a lot back in February, and as the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfolded and the world went back to its Cold War Defcon, this album felt like the best soundtrack for these weird times, especially “Nocturne” with its stunning guitar solo. May I remind you, the period between the revolutions of 1989 and the fall of the USSR was tense as f**k. More than the self-serving US narrative tells itself.

In all, these three albums are simply beautiful, through and through, something that runs parallel, not in opposition to our current diet of bops and vibes. The latter can deliver beautiful music, and vice versa, but in these times, we sorely need the dedicated, album-cohesive focus of the former.

Alberto Cox would very much love for these three to trigger a moral panic of sorts that propels them into further fame. They deserve it for all the effort they lovingly put into singing about pagan and/or Queer stuff.