Lovely picking and sliding from Joynes and Davis, two of modern Britain’s guitar pluckers par excellence. I’m a long-ish time fan of Joynes, from his road-dust-dry solo records, through the etched bare beauty of his traditional song recitals with Stephanie Hladowski, to his ethno-folk-forgeries with Dead Rat Orchestra, and so I’m pretty much guaranteed to love anything new from him. Davis I’m not so familiar with, although I caught a rather captivating set of his at 2014’s Sin Eater festival. My promise of further investigation – specifically his House of Dragons long-player, about which I’d been hearing positive mutterings during the Festival – was rather stymied by a beer and sausage sandwich-led erosion of my usually beak-sharp critical faculties, unfortunately. My bad, as I’m now coming to realise.
Split Electric sees the duo plugging in for a set of fuzzy, spooky jams that are not a million miles away from the taut precision of their usual acoustic-based work. While refusing the chance to go all Sunn O))) with their amped-up axes may be viewed by some as a missed opportunity, the scuffed, cobwebby vibe that’s imparted to these compositions is actually a real joy. The pair fly solo all the way through, alternating tracks to keep us on our toes rather than slicing out chunks of territory. Poa Kichizi is an early Davis treat, a sun-drenched cut with pulsing arpeggios and a lovely descending lilt. He dives deep with the appropriately named Sigil Eyes later on, its exploratory lead mantra accompanied by various mysterious knockings, ominous groans from the dark as the truth seekers stumble to the summit in search of enlightenment … or something… At nearly seven minutes it’s the longest piece on here, although it never outstays its welcome. Another Davis track, Scaraboo, occupies similar headspace, although with less ghostly reverb and more retro-psych phasing. The result is a kind of Technicolor lethargy, gently ushering us into the Age of Aquarius with a chill pill and nice glass of red to help us on our way.
While it’s ironic that electric guitars, once the apotheosis of destructive rock modernism, here seem ideal at adding a crusty patina of age to Joynes’ and Davis’ Anglo-Americana, the results are sincere and beautifully executed. Joynes has a knack for staying on just the right side of Fahey old-timeyness – maybe it’s those imports from Africa and Asia that he lets seep into his aesthetic acting as counterweights – and his compositions are equal parts enigmatic and accessible here. You can’t quite tell which esoteric traditions have fed into which bits, which is all to the good. Endomorph Vs Ectomorph, besides having the best title of a bunch of exceedingly well-titled tunes, is a tremolo rockabilly delight, its plangent plucks almost disappearing into a whirlpool of its own shimmer. Bold William Taylor and The Whittlesy Straw Bear Tune/Molly Gang sees him drink deep from the well of English (or Anglo-American) traditional song, the former turning up in several collections (there’s a charming version from 1971 here, folk fans), the latter with an even stranger provenance. Both, however, are fantastic, their twiggy, prehensile strength lent a slight patina of fuzz by Joynes’ slightly overdriven treatment.
Split Electric is a marvellous beast, offering far more enjoyment than its relatively prosaic title hints. Perhaps it’s like an anonymous shipping container packed full of strange objects. Once you crack open the door, you’ll want to wander there forever, entranced by the rows of glittering mystery.