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moa moa are the new wonky pop kids in town, and after a handful of promising singles drip-fed over the last couple of years, they’re now arriving with their brilliant debut EP, ‘Brain Feelings,’ a kaleidoscopic journey through the humorous, absurd and wildly talented mind of chief songwriter James Ratcliffe, ably backed by his band of mates.

moa moa’s story begins in Hertfordshire where Dan Byrne and Matt Taylor first met James; all performing in different projects at various band nights, the threads started joining in a scene that brought them together. Whilst at university, James befriended Connor James and, after graduating the four of them simultaneously found themselves drawn to the capital and ended up moving in together. Initially just a convenient living arrangement, as their respective bands and projects fizzled out, the foursome found themselves united by the belief in James’ songwriting vision and moa moa was born. Shortly after releasing their first couple of singles, Dan’s workmate Sophie Parkes joined the fold, providing the finishing flourishes of saxophone and backing vocals.

It didn’t take long for moa moa to catch the eye of some big-shot producers following the release of their debut single ‘Yellow Jacket’, namely the award-winning alt-J collaborator Charlie Andrew and Speedy Wunderground honcho Dan Carey who released their second and third singles respectively through their own labels: ‘Spinning’ and ‘Coltan Candy’. The experience of working with both Charlie and Dan influenced the band in different but specific ways. As is well known, the ethos behind the Speedy Wunderground singles series is that it’s recorded and mixed in one session, and the band describe this as “the perfect antidote to some of the over-thought and slow aspects of our process to date,” whereas Charlie’s attention to detail has stuck with them: “Little things like how the drums were captured, and tuning the drums up to match the sample that the idea for the beat was initially inspired by felt precise and focused.”

So when setting to work on their debut EP they were able to take this learning, plus some hands on help from Charlie, into James’ bedroom studio to painstakingly craft one of the most impressive debut EPs from a UK band in some time. The material that makes up the ‘Brain Feelings’ EP is “a mixture of older songs and ideas (‘I Do’, ‘Florence’ and ‘Drive’ had been knocking around for a while), with things that came together quite late (‘Information’, ‘Sad Girl’)”. 

With all of moa moa’s music, there is a humour and playfulness at the front, but lurking behind the jocose allusion is a serious underbelly which the band explain as a “reflection of James as a person at times - he's open, playful and unafraid to say strange things or approach bigger, more obvious topics from an angle you might not expect. But, he isn't inherently frivolous, or rather, frivolous for the sake of it. There will always be something important being said in the tunes - whether it's about love, or politics etc”.

The first single from the EP, ‘Drive’, explores a societal and political apathy to progressive change through a prism of glitchy synths, and sets the tone nicely for the EP. ‘Information’ - an EP standout - begins with Reichian horn stabs before quickly unfolding into an infectious groove, phasered guitars and expertly chaotic vocoder as the bed for a song about “sexuality in an age of online promiscuity, born from reading around the NSA scandal around leaked nudes”. Elsewhere, ‘Sad Girl’ beautifully encapsulates young love paranoia in their most intuitive song on ‘Brain Feelings’, whilst ‘Just Keep Going’ is an ambitious arrangement with chopped up, distorted and pitched vocals urging the listener to do just that.

As with many bands that started emerging pre-pandemic, there is a sense of lost time to make up with moa moa, and ahead of a packed summer of festivals and general gigging they have already been working on the follow up to the ‘Brain Feelings’ EP, so if you’re not already aware of their “wonky chops” then it’s time to get acquainted with moa moa and fall in love with your new favourite band.

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'Brain Feelings' EP is out now.

Words: Nicolas Graves

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