Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

Like a lot of teenage guys, I wanted to form a band. I didn’t have much idea about the instruments the band would play, but I thought maybe there should be a lot of them. I knew my band ought to play any kind of thing it liked, and mix it all up too, but that everything it ever played should be pop. I knew that the band should write good lyrics when they had to, but that good lyrics should never be what they were about. I never formed that band, of course not. But I’m glad that someone did.

I’m picking Los Amigos… over the stoner glory of “Dry The Rain”, say, because it was more than any other the record that switched me on to not only the Beta Band, but to the idea that British groups were out there making brilliant, intriguing indie pop again. And besides, it still works best as a summary of every special thing they did (what they do now is another matter entirely). “Push It Out” has them at the top of their enchanting game, a soft and soily mantric expanse of brushing, droning and chanting from which groove and melody gradually ripen. “Push It Out” is organic and exotic, a long lazy spell cast over British music. There’s something wonderful about the Beta Band’s unforced wackiness at a time when the island’s style was so much to do with poise and attitude, something lovable about a band who’s idea of fun wasn’t at anyone else’s expense.

For Los Amigos they mostly keep the smiles in check, mind you. The cover of their album – night-time in Albion, starlight bringing out the unreal in the rural – would have worked better for the rest of this mysterious EP. Steve Mason’s clotted, mumbly voice turns his songs into incantations and dream-diaries, where the rhythms of the words overake their meaning. So “Dr.Baker” is spooky ritual, and “It’s Over” a folksy fried strum about strange encounters and imaginary friends, and then “Needles In My Eyes” pulls it together with a lovely song that’s as near to conventional as the Beta Band have so far got. For me it worked like a wake-up call from what’s becoming, in every sense, the band of my dreams.