Thomas Charlie Pedersen – Employees Must Wash Hands: Album Review

Sixties pop, folk introspection and orchestral manoeuvres.  They’re all present and correct on the third solo album from Copenhagen’s Thomas Charlie Pedersen.

Release Date:  14th April 2023

Label: Karmanian Records

Formats: Digital

As we’ve discovered over and again, the COVID lockdown of 2020 and 2021 was a fruitful period for the many introspective songwriters whose work graces these pages, and here comes yet another example.  Thomas Charlie Pedersen, songwriter, singer, guitarist and pianist, native of Copenhagen, Denmark, spent those lockaway days – sometimes in contact with brother Daniel and often in splendid isolation – in his room with only guitar and piano for company, and managed to come up with enough material for not just one, but two albums.

Thomas Charlie Pedersen leads a double life.  On the one hand, he’s a solo artist with a growing reputation.  His first solo album, Second Hand War, made its appearance as long ago as 2016, his follow-up, Daylight Saving Hours, hit the racks in 2020, and now, three years down the track, comes episode three.  But that’s by no means the whole Thomas Charlie Pedersen story; alongside brother Daniel – who features prominently on this offering, as we shall see – Thomas has been around for almost 20 years as part of the rock band Vinyl Floor, and those productive lockdown writing sessions yielded sufficient material to service not only Thomas Charlie Pedersen’s third solo album, Employees Must Wash Hands, but also the recent Vinyl Floor album, Funhouse Mirror.

Pedersen describes his music as a blend of folk, singer-songwriter, indie and chamber folk, but I somehow believe that he’s understating himself.  Sure, Employees Must Wash Hands, includes copious dollops of each of those genres, but the album is equally notable for the generous servings of late-sixties pop that dominate the first half of the album and underpin the folkier material later on.  Indeed, on songs like opening track Yesterdays and Silly Ways, the glorious, joyous, poppy waltz Oh Whatever and the vibrant tango Slow Passage, the listener is transported right back to the heady days of summer 1967 – although, if you want a comparison, we’re talking Honeybus here, not Pink Floyd.  It may, or may not, be intentional, but, for the poppier elements of Employees Must Wash Hands, Thomas has shown himself to be a master of the verse/ chorus/ middle eight/ verse/ chorus format of the classic pop song.

Lyrically, it’s different story altogether.  Lockdown worked a strange and lasting magic on all of us and, for Pedersen, it allowed his insecurities to gather, as well as allowing the time and introspective opportunity for him to try and make some sense of it all.  In describing the themes on Employees Must Wash Hands, Thomas says: “Some of these songs deal with Man’s relationship with God and God’s relationship with Man.  Who has abandoned who?  Is there any faith or spirituality left?  They also deal with isolation, self-doubt and all of the other stuff on my mind during the strange time that was COVID lockdown.  It [now] feels right to finally release these songs since they reflect a certain period – at least for me – and they gave me hope when I wrote them.” 

As I’ve already inferred, brother Daniel is a consistent presence throughout Employees Must Wash Hands and he does an admirable job indeed in adding flesh and depth to Thomas Charlie Pedersen’s lead vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, piano and keyboards.  He adds further guitars, piano and percussion, and really comes into his own with the string and orchestral effects he provides and, particularly, his stunning harmony vocals that add a Beach Boys flavour to the poppier numbers and genuine folk authenticity to the softer songs.

And, speaking of those softer songs, Thomas Charlie Pedersen plays some excellent fingerpicked guitar on the dreamy Coarse Ramp of Yore, the tasty You Can’t Have it Both Ways, the contemplative Night of Stars and the unsettling Worry Beads.

Perhaps, though, the real treasures of Employees Must Wash Hands are the less classifiable selections; songs like the intriguing Rains on Saturn, for example.  On the surface, an engaging pop ballad, Daniel’s electronic effects (or “weird noises” as the album’s sleeve notes would have it) turn the song into the soundtrack to a 50s sci-fi movie soundtrack.  The brothers harmonise wonderfully to emphasise the song’s interesting messages and Daniel’s string effects add the final touch of lushness.

Elsewhere, Mass in D Minor is slow, dirge-like and absorbing and the piano-based Tremble and Reel is hymnal and (intentionally or otherwise) amusing but, for me, the two absolute highlights are Fiddler and the Travesty – at just 3:47, it’s the album’s longest track – and closing number Stagnant Pools of Sorrow.  Daniel conjures up a cello effect to accompany Pedersen’s piano and preacher-like vocal to Fiddler… and the song is rounded off by a wonderfully absurd string quartet march section.  Then, to close the album, Pedersen lives up his “Chamber folk” claims as piano and string effects come together marvellously for the soothing Stagnant Pools of Sorrow.

Employees Must Wash Hands is an intriguing album, enjoyable, unpredictable, thought-provoking and well worth a listen.

Listen to Fiddler and the Travesty – one of the album’s outstanding tracks – here:

Thomas Charlie Pedersen: Facebook / Twitter / Spotify

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