THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS by Beans on Toast
Favorite Tracks: “Folk Singer”, “The War on War”, “NYE”
Jay McAllister is the exact kind of folk figure people love to canonize and worship. Through his moniker Beans on Toast, the UK artist has released an absurd amount of music, starting with his 2009 double LP STANDING ON A CHAIR. He is so earnest and straightforward in his delivery that it’s hard to not like him; most of his songs consist of his take on love, drugs, and politics, delivered over acoustic guitar and varying accompanying instruments. His politics are stripped of theory and based on gut-feeling and simple hippie peace-and-love ideology; he does a tidy job of tying political issues to his personal life. What makes him stand out as a folk artist is how much he fixates on brief, passionate love affairs with scores of women, dancing around possible accusations of misogyny while managing to convince his audience that his cheeky bravado is really a foil for a deep love of women and the possibilities of human connection through sex. He’s a folk singer who always keeps things light, even when he stumbles into darker subject matter. His albums feel as much as if he’s hosting the greatest, most life-affirming party, as he is dealing with the immediate issues of his day.
With his latest release, THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS, Beans on Toast strays from the formula he’s established for himself just enough to keep things interesting, while not isolating anyone who’s traced his career over the last six or seven years. The problem with STANDING ON A CHAIR was that he touched on the same subjects so many times over the course of fifty tracks that it eventually felt as if he had run out of anything to say. Thankfully, on subsequent releases, he’s whittled his tracklists down considerably to twelve or fifteen tracks per album, which makes it feel as if he’s selected the best from his catalog rather than just dumping everything on the listener all at once. Part of the charm of Beans on Toast is his need to let all of his thoughts spill out of him, but a sense of self-editorializing allows each track on THE GRAND SCHEME OF THINGS to stand out instead of getting lost in the noise.
Musically, this album utilizes other musicians and different styles in order to allow the tracks to become more distinguishable as a result. “Fuck You Nashville” is a country track about being disappointed in the capital of country music, “NOLA Honeymoon” is a big band swing song that recounts the story of a romantic night spent in New Orleans, and “All I See is Wagamama” is a piano-driven ragtime song about gentrification. Lyrically, Beans on Toast seems to have slowed down and matured, as he sings in “The War on War”: “I’ve given up smoking cigarettes, I stopped taking cocaine too, and I don’t do MDMA no more, but I do still sing that song”. He’s no longer tearing through life and destroying himself in the process, and it can’t help but feel like a good thing at this point. It’s fun to listen to somebody really throw themselves into a drugs-and-sex binge, but it’s even more rewarding to hear a person grow and change. Six years out from STANDING ON A CHAIR, it feels better to know that Beans on Toast will be sticking around to keep hosting his party, as opposed to ending it prematurely.