There's danger in being a duo. Two people find a sound they're comfortable with and, lacking the pull of a gaggle of bandmates, they never challenge it. They write a good song or two, and they mostly fail to replicate those past glories. Recently, see Japandroids. But there's promise in being a duo, too. Aware of their stylistic and technical limitations, two people push each other to find a different sound, to write a different song, to find ingenious ways to accomplish what might be easy for bigger ensembles. Recently, see No Age.
On Who Are? We Think We Are!, the engaging if overloaded full-length debut of Jews and Catholics, the Winston-Salem duo goes a long way in avoiding the trap of contentment: Guitarist Eddie Garcia is capable of wiry lines that smolder with a Western ache ("The Spring") or ignite with a post-punk urgency ("Golden Arrow"). And upright bassist Alanna Meltzer seems as comfortable plucking big rock lines from her strings ("Fevers") as she is adding dark textural foils with her bow ("Zombie Teeth").
Despite their size, Meltzer, Garcia and a drum machine that moves from industrial-sized wallop to electro-ready skitters suggest a handful of indie monsters: From The Ex and Mission of Burma to Sonic Youth and Archers of Loaf, Jews and Catholics conjure a surprisingly varied lot of styles and structures, wedding it all with memorable, slightly agitated melodies. "Dear Alexa" builds into an excellent reverse avalanche of discord and drama, for instance, while the chiming if anxious "Thank God I Don't Live in Your Eyes" springs along steadily. You'll be able to put both in your pocket.
The duo format only manifests itself as weakness on We Are with respect to editing. Despite the veteran production of Mitch Easter and Cheetie Kumar, the songs blur a bit because almost all of them hang around a bit too long. Whether it's a guitar solo that's indulgent or one more refrain that's excessive, We Are tends to overstate its points. But by and large, they're frequently good points from a band that's finally found—and captured—its exciting, involved sound.