Review: Janek Schaefer – Lay-by Lullaby

Janek Schaefer - Lay-by LullabyI drive down the M3 at least three times a week. My commute to work takes an hour and a half, and a predominant amount of this is spent on the motorway. It’s a strange sort of stillness; a constant blur and drone hangs on all sides, while I sit, almost completely immobile, in the driver’s seat. A lot of the time it feels more akin to a slow teleportation that a journey – I am absent in mind as I drive, and as my mind wanders gently between traces of thought, I feel like my body evaporates and is taken with it.

Lay-By Lullaby parallels my experiences of being both on the M3 and beside it. I follow the soft outlines of synthesiser as they circulate the audiosphere and swiftly dissipate, like the vague clumps of thought that screensave my brain when I’m behind the wheel. At times I feel as though I’m sleepwalking through a mansion: passing through chamber orchestra rehearsals, glancing into empty rooms obliterated by sunlight, half-hearing the waltzing leakage of an abandoned radio down the corridor. There is a lightness to my interaction with these gentle flares of music; not apathy as such, but a swooping, deliberate sensory surface skim. It reminds me of those dangerous, post-midnight journeys I occasionally take back to Bournemouth (generally after attending a gig in London). The glow of headlamps against my dirty windscreen translates directly into lulled harps and gentle purrs of synthesiser radiation.

There are moments where Schaefer cuts everything back to just the vacant chorus of the motorway, as heard outside it. It’s that distinct, endless sigh of absent transit – a hollow band of congregative car noise, tilting delicately between pitches – which Schaefer melts into the hush of loose radio static. As noted in the record description, it’s the sound of our society “hurtling down the fast lane of life with our head in the clouds, and our foot to the floor thinking the road ahead goes on forever”. Indeed, speed seems irrelevant when the horizon renews itself indefinitely. In light of this description, the gust of passing traffic starts to chill me – it’s the sound of coma and postponement, carrying the listener to their destination faster than they care to realise. I rest in the silence that fades up as Schaefer’s record comes to a close, and I understand the difference between the grey tarmac of mortal stagnation and the clarity of self-reflection and engagement.