Released by Karmanian Records, Thomas Charlie Pedersen’s first solo album Second Hand War is an acoustic, low-fi affair for the most part and represents a decisive step away from the melodic alt rock of his power trio Vinyl Floor. The Danish born singer/songwriter has earned a much deserved reputation, despite a relatively limited output, for his insightful and even literary lyrical output, coolly confident melodic voice, and the sheer musicality of his arrangements. Everything hangs together here, even the shortest numbers, and there’s a rhyme and reason to the track listing that is, frankly, a lost art nowadays. The album’s primary instruments are acoustic guitar, mandolin, and piano, but other musical voices make their presence heard. The recording captures the songs with clarity, but likewise embraces light atmospherics that help further put over the dramatic engine driving some of the tunes.
The opener “High Dust Devils” makes a deliberate attempt to adopt much of the language and tropes of traditional American folk music and succeeds without ever sounding hokey. Pedersen’s voice might seem, initially, a little too light to carry off this sort of lyric, but there’s a gathering gravitas in his phrasing giving this track a light unearthly beauty. The second track, “Appreciation Hymn”, touches on elements rare in this sort of music – a practice showing of gratitude filtered through Pedersen’s clear poetic vision. Piano and guitar seamlessly wind themselves around one another on “Letter from the Dead”, one of the album’s indisputable high peaks. The lyrics invoke regret and love in equal measure and without any sentimentality often marring far lesser songs. There’s a easy, unwinding grace to his performance that reassures listeners while still connecting with them on both an emotional and intellectual level.
The mandolin and Pedersen’s voice makes an excellent match on the short but substantive “I For One”. Pedersen’s lyrical inventions always have a solid, if non linear, narrative base and invoke voice with distinctive individuality. This song is no exception and his ear for nearly flawless construction doubly makes this one of the album’s underrated gems. “Sycamoore Street” is a beautiful piano ballad with an extended running time and elegantly understated vocals from Pedersen. Despite not possessing a classically trained voice, Pedersen shows a sure instinct for phrasing, emotiveness, and exploring his given range in creative and tasteful ways. His imagination gets quite a workout here and it results in one of the album’s best singing performances.
“For You” has a light, Beatle-esque uplift and its melody might even vaguely remind some of the classic White Album track “Blackbird”. Pedersen, as ever, artfully matches his voice to the melody line. “Golden Age” is a delicately rendered instrumental with just the right amount of space for the individual lines to breathe. The melody practically begs for sensitive vocals and finely tuned words to be laid over top, but Pedersen wisely leaves the song stand as is. It occupies a choice spot in the album’s running order as its calming atmosphere begins pointing to the release’s inevitable conclusion. The album’s centerpiece song, “Kill With Kindness”, runs over six minutes in length. It’s the album’s most completely developed lyric and explores considerable thematic territory. Some might find a little fault with its length based on the scarcity of instrumentation, but the stark musical environment is firmly in keeping with the album’s sonic spirit. The muted but deep spirit pervading the album as a whole makes it one of the year’s best releases. Thomas Charlie Pedersen is an unique performer in every respect.