“Being here, will someone figure out the situation? All the pieces bits and tones,” Aaron Liu croons over the last few desperate moments of “Being Here,” the opening cut from Two Moons’ gorgeously realized Good Cheer Records debut Strings. The song is a live favorite of the band’s that distills their distinct appeal: a beautiful, scruffy pop dream alive to the dissonances of waking life. Do you have to know where you are to know where you’re going? Do you have to be understood to be loved?
Liu met drummer Andrew Massett and bassist Michael Bonham growing up in Portland, playing here and there with each of them—though never together—during high school. Liu and Massett had started working on early Two Moons songs before Liu quit his job in 2014 to tour with another band. While on the road, Liu began performing and releasing tapes as Two Moons before taking a Greyhound from LA to Portland in April 2015 after months spent touring the country. “I was trying to hit the reset button, so to speak,” he says. That same week, he got in touch with Massett and Bonham.
The first time I saw Two Moons play was in my basement later that year. I’d heard the 1087 EP—immediately obsessing over “At The Midnight Hour,” possibly the most criminally underrated bedroom pop cut to come out of Portland this decade—but what I saw that night was a raucous three piece that morphed Liu’s restrained, atmospheric lo-fi into blistering, crunchy guitar pop. It was a bedroom-to-basement live transformation that hinted at the sort of ambition often unfairly ignored when a band gets tagged “lo-fi,” ambition that Strings starts to realize.
Strings is the band’s first three-piece effort, the product of a home-recorded session from early 2016 that the band admits was unorganized at best. “It was pretty janky,” says Bonham. “We combined all our mismatched gear and recorded into a little laptop setup on the floor surrounded by dozens of tangled cables and charts.”
Liu spent the summer building on those live takes, adding densely layered overdubs that borrow from the sonic pallet of late 60s and early 70s pop. The effect is one of the familiar becoming suddenly mysterious: Strings i+s the rare record that’s as inscrutable as it is stuffed with hooks. Slide guitar, piano, and acoustic fingerpicking blend together under a warm blanket of tape hiss and reverb that sounds like if Brian Wilson had a lucid dream in which he somehow decided to climb inside George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and live there.
The song’s themselves drip with uncertainty and misunderstanding. “Yeah maybe / You still don’t know what’s on your mind / And they’ll all see it in your eyes,” Liu sings on the serenely unsettled “No Name in G.” It’s a thematic strain teased out through Liu’s understated lyrics as well as Two Moons’ trademark enigmatic production: the sound of someone trapped in the fog of indecision, unsure when a clear view of what lies ahead might materialize.
In Liu’s telling, that’s not far from the experience of making the record. “Near summer’s end I tried to [mix] it with headphones and practically lost my mind listening to the same set of songs over and over again,” he says. Fortunately for the listener, repeated listens have the opposite effect; in fact that’s exactly what such a painstakingly crafted set of songs deserves. Liu is a gifted songwriter updating classic pop for the chaotic and messy contemporary moment, and Strings is a record that revels in its opacity.
As in life, so in art: the closer you get, the less simple things seem.
– Nathan Tucker, Cool American