What a year it has been. As we near the end of it, with the present troubles still on the horizon, morale is low, semester one has been a whirlwind unlike anything seen before, and there is still no end in sight. What do we do then? Try and keep pressing on? Look back into the nostalgia? Embrace the bitter reality?
Or all of the above?
Beans on Toast has given us the musical equivalent of all this and more.
Beans on Toast is the solo project of a charming, middle aged man who released a debut album of 50 songs back in 2009. Featuring pretty much a smattering of his mates, and simple acoustic guitar with a gravelled coke-destroyed voice, he gives us songs about politics, family, and all other ins and outs of life. This includes the signature song ‘M-D-M-Amazing’ – detailing his love-spell adventure of him and ‘a pretty girl with a bag of MDMA’ at a festival – which really encapsulates a lot of the experiences first hand.
Now 11 years later, with another album released every December 1st (Beans’ actual Birthday), we have been given two albums with polarizing styles of production but possibly his most heart tugging, capturing, and even danceable work yet.
If folk music is, in its essence, used to tell a story, Beans has certainly told many, including lots we can relate to and get meaning out of. I have seen his shows and met him a few times, and he is as charming as he is humble. A bloke with a flower in his cap and a lot of love to give, but also possibly one of the best songwriters around, in terms of lyrics.
Beans on Toast is thoughtful, punchy, funny, and moving all in a fell swoop this year. In the midst of a lot of lost hope and a music scene on the brink, we have been given two glorious albums that I think will have you listening at your highest and lowest moments, for whatever comes next.
Knee Deep in Nostalgia
The first record is louder, more composed, and a far cry form the early Beans. It is an album full of joy, bounce, and deep childish wonder. Knee Deep in Nostalgia is probably the most accurate name this album could ever have.
Opening with whistles, it launches into what is probably the best opening line: “Someone’s got to be the first one on the dancefloor”. The words encapsulate Beans’ entire approach to a gig and, thanks to the bass and keys, are what you are immediately compelled to do.
The first time I listened to this track, I was actually walking at 10 at night, worn out from studying, but this opening put a spring in my step and I’m sure will do the same for others.
From the great opening of ‘The Village Disco’ we get taken to a jamboree of songs these include; ethics of ‘What would Willie Nelson Do?’; remembered lessons and life goals from school teachers; and even a shout out to the affectionate nickname of ‘Beano’ given to him by Australian fans of Beans on Toast.
With a mix of laid-back country style jams, and wacky lyrical word play, this album is perfect to lift your spirits and have you thinking back to fond memories.
A key moment, and one of the final singles from this record, is ‘Album of the Day’. Our beloved Beans describes a typical day with his daughter, listening to records completely – as one should – without skipping, and embracing the joy of the experience together. Looking back at earlier albums – with tracks such as ‘Blowjob for the Blues’ – it’s quite funny to see now how family-friendly Beans has become.
With even more whimsy, but also wholesomeness, each chorus of this track is a soothing thing you can imagine re-enacting with beloved family members when this is all over.
Knee Deep in Nostalgia is a lot more polished and produced than the other release. It gives that sense of ensemble, whist maintaining a jolly, upbeat attitude. With some sombre moments here and there, it is the sweet side of Beans’ release into 2020.
The Unforeseeable Future
The other side of the coin for Beans is very aptly called The Unforeseeable Future, and, given that the word has been thrown around a lot over the last 10 years, I don’t think it ever in a moment of modern history had a greater impact than 2020.
The second release is one I think more people will definitely identify with. It is the one that has generated more singles, and seems to have benefitted from more time to ruminate upon. Like the earlier releases, it is a lot more stripped back, and brings things down to Beans’ poetry for the soul.
With the singles of ‘Glastonbury Weekend’ musing over the concept of a Zoom festival, and ‘Strange Days’ being released just after the first lockdown, Beans goes into a monologue in ‘Chessington World of Adventures’, that showcases the actual confusion and calamity of the entire situation, by explaining how a theme park is turned into COVID-19 testing centre.
However, one of the biggest gut punches is not even the satire of the situation, as Beans remarks on how the lack of governmental transparency is leading into more confusion, but instead the kicker comes when he ultimately states, “If you elect a clown, expect a circus.”
What makes Beans such a powerful songwriter is his ability to just express himself freely whilst maintaining humility, even after singing about all the shortcomings of the modern age.
It still boils down to him “just having more questions”, immediately relating with the listener though all these points. Beans seems to understand how, throughout this unpredictable year – whist we try to hold on to hope, culture, and our sense of love in each other – it boils down to us all being in this unforeseeable future together. Tthat is the beauty of both records.
I have a feeling this will be slow burner, but still one of the best releases of the year. The greatness of the albums, however, doesn’t stem from their production, nor the deep things to be pulled out of it, but instead for the fact that it is a simple record, that will bring you comfort in nostalgia and a sense of united confusion.