TWO MOONS And a third guy. Claire Gunville

“I LIKE TO THINK of albums as photographs, because visual representation and recording goes hand in hand with audio,” says Two Moons’ Aaron Liu. “What I’m saying isn’t science, per se. I don’t want to sound like a stoner or anything like that, but sound is about frequencies and the speed at which you arrange your composition in a specific moment. To me, that resonates with using a camera to preserve an image, while still arranging the colors and such in that moment in time.”

The vocalist/guitarist’s own photos have appeared in the zine Semi-OK, and Two Moons’ new EP, Strings, maintains this visual sensibility in musical terms. Liu’s songs inhabit moments of darkness like a light flickering between alienation and connection.

I meet the Portland trio outside the Avalon Theater and Wunderland arcade on SE Belmont on an evening when a windy downpour has begun to turn the record snowfall into slush, but the sidewalks are still caked with a slick layer of ice. Already waiting in the lobby is bass player Mike Bonham; he’s soon joined by Liu and drummer Andrew Massett, whose arm hangs in a sling after he slipped on the ice a few weeks prior. We decide to head to the Triple Nickel, and sit on the patio while a band covers “Say It Ain’t So” inside. I ask Liu if he’s ever been in a cover band, “No, but I kind of wish I was,” he says.

Although Liu, Massett, and Bonham met each other in elementary school in Tigard, musically the members of Two Moons come from different worlds. Liu has always been drawn to the intricate pop compositions of Brian Wilson and Paul Simon, while Bonham played electric jazz bass growing up, and Massett drummed in the disbanded Portland post-rock/screamo group Caregiver. Sonically, the group seems grounded in their appreciation of the dense, moody pop-rock of Alex G and Cap’n Jazz. It wasn’t until late in high school that they started to create together, when Massett and Liu shared a film class making two, as Massett puts it, “awesomely bad short films together,” both of which Liu added some of his own early original music to.

“I was really excited because it was my first exposure to Aaron’s music,” Massett says. “Actually, my very first exposure was at an eighth grade talent show,” he continues over Liu’s lighthearted pleads to stop. “He played in the orchestra room for the entire eighth-grade class. I was super impressed with the musicianship. I don’t think he’d quite found his voice yet.”

Liu quietly released his bedroom recordings on Bandcamp under the Two Moons moniker, and in 2015 he debuted a wistfully tender lo-fi pop EP called 1087, followed by 2016’s 1087 Outtakes; each produced a song (“At the Midnight Hour” and “My Friend Maria”) that was later reworked collaboratively on Strings. The 1087 EPs showcased Liu’s unique voice, a near-whisper paired with virtuosic piano and guitar melodies that invite the listener in closer just to try and catch everything.

While a group effort, Strings builds on this sense of solitude and longing rather than shedding the identity entirely. The first song, “Being Here,” begins with beautiful acoustic classical guitar before finding the loud rock core of the song and spacing back out to another acoustic interlude. It’s a moment that shows Liu’s range, feeling the full energetic thrust of being present with his friends and bandmates, then slipping right back into his dreamy mind.

We decide to walk down Belmont to a pizzeria where a friend works. Liu walks nervously ahead of the pack, but turns around quickly. “I know Mike didn’t talk that much back there, but he does so much for us as a group,” he says. “We played a show last New Year’s and we had to wait outside while it was freezing cold and he got us all hand warmers. He’s that kind of friend.”

Liu and Bonham exchange a smile, and Bonham says, “That’s what a bass player’s for: keeping things together.”

Two Moons’ Strings EP comes out Feb 3 on Good Cheer Records.