Conventional wisdom—or sheer logistics—has often suggested that you can only do so much when you're playing music as a duo. There's only so much sound you can squeeze out of two instruments and one or two voices, and eventually those limitations will catch up to you. But there have been countless examples in the last 20 years to prove that's all nonsense: Lightning Bolt, The White Stripes, Death from Above 1979, No Age and Dark Castle, among others, have made signature sounds out of stripped-down arrangements, proving that the greatest limitations are those you impose upon yourself.
The Dabbers are another such band for whom keeping it simple is more of a strength than a liability. Indeed, there's something admirably straightforward about how Zack and Shelby Wentz tackle their noisy punk songs. Take for instance the melody of "Triple Agent," from the band's new album I Am Alien Now. It's essentially a repetition of one note during the minimalist verse, pulsing along a straight line. But when the duo breaks out into the chorus, introducing a two-chord progression, it feels like a powerful change of course.
The key to making the most of your setup is in thinking creatively, and for that matter writing some great songs. There are plenty of those on I Am Alien Now, made that much stronger by subtle touches that enhance a series of tracks that ultimately don't need that much to feel whole. The reverb effects on leadoff track "CooCoo" fill out the space left open between Shelby Wentz's bass riffs, whereas "Little Chainsaw" has a cool groove that might otherwise be obscured by too much additional instrumentation. And Shelby''s voice has an ethereal quality that stands in contrast to the density of the bass and drums, giving a sense of levity to some otherwise heavy tracks.
Sometimes the band grows even noisier, like on the darkly distorted "Show Your Room," and sometimes they open up their space even more, as they do on the stark "Wafers." At no point does anything sound too thin or unfinished. The Dabbers might seem like they're doing more with less, but perhaps the better question is why so many bands are seemingly doing less with a lot more.