The Jones Facility has for a long time been one of Western Australia’s most criminally underrated acts. While there has been a revolving cast of musicians that make up the outfit, it has largely been the project of prodigious Bunbury songwriter Hayden Barker and their albums have been the realisation of his brilliantly bizarre imagination.
With 10 records released to date (not to mention several storied unreleased albums) since their landmark debut When the Town Turns Still in 2007, Barker has been a wellspring of colourful and widescreen folk, with earnest Dylan-esque lyricism, melodic nods to The Beatles, lush harmonies and local references delivered with a wry smile.
While Barker has never been one to shy away from pushing himself musically, this formula of sorts has been the foundation for his restless output. While the brilliant Soak Your Heart In Her Soil For It Will Grow (2015) took a surprisingly soulful turn venturing into blues, jazz and punk territory at times, new album Buggy embraces the Jones Facility’s “classic” sounds and builds on it in new and unexpected ways.
Opening track November kicks off with richness and urgency, complete with the organ and harmonica and Barker’s trademark one-liners: “I don’t shy away from holy water, that’s what I get when I kiss your mouth.” It’s also reassuring from the outset to note that Barker has lost none of the pitch-perfect clarity listeners have come to expect, and it builds from there into epic layers of vocals in a captivating outro.
The following track Good Luck is a rockier counterpoint, jolting the listener into a headier groove in a jilted Positively 4th Street style kiss-off: “So you’re moving on, hope you have fun without me/ You’re moving ahead, you’re going strong without me,” with Barker, repeating the line “Good luck to you, good luck I mean it” like he’s trying to convince himself he means it as well.
The brief Just Breezin Through is cut more from a Brian Wilson cloth, while You’ll Get Through the Day also follows the Beach Boys aesthetic.
In Alright With That Barker says, “Don’t make me do something I wouldn’t normally do/ Except have the confidence to kiss you.” It’s a mellow folk tune that almost lures you into a false sense of security before the blaring Kick Back brings the pace back up with the infectious hook and overdriven vocals stating, “I’m gonna lose myself in this big old world.”
The spoken word Kate and Jack feels like an intermission of sorts, breaking up the pace of the songs that came before. The story that Barker narrates is nothing profound or even particularly eventful, but engrossing all the same. It’s part of his gift in taking the innocuous minutiae of life and turning it into a captivating story, but the lesson to be learned from it remains elusive.
One Hour at a Time is a beautiful and reflective track with rich harmonies provided by Natasha Hesson, reminiscent of Conor Oberst and Emmylou Harris on Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning. He ponders, “these words mean nothing, if I can say but cannot do.”
Album closer I Want You by my Side sees Barker lamenting in technicolour: “If I was a matador I would stop the entertainment/ Throw away my spears and not accept my payment.” It’s the kind of line that any regular or reasonable person would not be able to come up with – part of what continues to make The Jones Facility so startling in its originality.
Ultimately, Buggy is a rewarding listen with Barker doing what he does best. The lyrics, arrangements and melodies stay with you and leave the listener feeling both buoyant and melancholy at the same time. It’s a welcome addition to an already impressive catalogue from one of the South West’s best songwriters.