Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Social Distancing Journal: Week 3 (March 30-April 5, 2020)

Social Distancing Baking - Photo by Mark Pfeiffer
Three weeks into social distancing, I can’t say I like it, but I feel as though I’ve come to terms with it if this is the foreseeable short term future. This arrangement will be the case through April, but let’s not fixate on an end date, please. Taking the situation day by day rather than anticipating when things can return to some degree of normalcy is how I deal with it, even though I suspect this is going to last longer than I want.

On my days off I’ve been doing some baking, which can be a good distraction and (hopefully) produces something worth eating. In an unexpected turn, on lockdown I’ve been making better choices in what I eat, but perhaps the baking offsets any positive strides. This week in the  kitchen I made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with pecans and cinnamon rolls. Yeast is among the things local supermarkets haven’t had available, but I found some this week and was eager to make the rolls. They turned out well, but wow, the amount of butter in the recipe was significant.


In keeping with listening to more upbeat music, I revisited Fountains Of Wayne’s catalog. I don’t recall if I started doing this before or after seeing the news that Adam Schlesinger was ill and died from coronavirus, but at some point in listening to the funny, poignant, and ridiculously catchy songs he contributed as one of the band’s main songwriters, doing so was tinged with sadness at the loss of at a clever and tuneful artist. 

Fountains of Wayne is best known for “Stacy’s Mom,” a synth-rock earworm reminiscent of The Cars and which gave the group their biggest mainstream hit, likely thanks to a risqué music video that’s an homage to Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Fans of the band and Schlesinger’s work for film, television, and theater have been quick to stress that his legacy is greater than a novelty hit that mass culture may remember him for, an irony when considering he wrote the song for a fictional one-hit wonder in the Tom Hanks’ film That Thing You Do! I don’t think there’s a weak spot in Fountains of Wayne’s five albums, plus their two-disc rarities collection, so rather than point you to anything from there, I’ll highlight Schlesinger’s perfect pastiche of ‘80s pop with “PoP Goes My Heart,” a delightful Wham! imitation from the underrated romantic comedy Music and Lyrics.

The sheer volume of new music and a busy schedule mean it’s impossible for me to pretend to keep up, so as online music coverage has tilted toward poptimism in recent years, it follows that I’ve gravitated toward what is receiving positive attention. For the uninitiated, the rockism vs. poptimism debate can be reduced to perceptions of authenticity vs. artifice, with the former being considered more worthy of respect. (The Wikipedia page on rockism and poptimism gives a good overview if you want to know more.) For me, greater critical appreciation for such music, which I liked when I heard it but may have dismissed as disposable, too slick, manufactured, or artistically unserious, was a key to opening my ears to performers whose work was catchy but didn’t fit a prescribed notion of “good music,” whatever that is. As with any critical theory, poptimism can overreach and overcorrect in pushing against the rockist mindset. I find it useful in dismantling the idea of guilty pleasures, which I’ve expounded on before. You like what you like. What’s the harm in admitting it?

Anyway, that’s all prelude to saying Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia earned the most spins from me this week. I have a weakness for strong melodies--I know, what a rare opinion--and disco, and both are prominent elements on this album. Social distancing or not, you will not see me dancing at clubs--or at clubs, for that matter--but I enjoy the hooks, uptempo beats, and sonic landscapes on this album quite a bit. The single “Physical” is more evidence that the Drive soundtrack and ‘80s pop continue to wield major influences on those chasing a chart-topping spot. The bouncy “Levitating” is my current favorite on the album. “Love Again” sounds like a surefire contemporary hits radio smash, at least if it gets an edit snipping the profanity that, at least in my college radio days, the FCC would have frowned upon. I don’t know if listening to it while working helps with my speed, an important part of the job, but it keeps the minutes flying by.


Work days ran long this week, so my viewing lagged a fair bit. I polished off Criterion’s Jackie Chan set and watched Police Story 2 (Ging chaat goo si juk jaap). The sequel is not as good as the first, in part because it gets distracted with additional characters and the plot. There’s enough of the parts one wants from Chan’s films for it to still be worthwhile, but seen in close proximity to its predecessor, I found it a little disappointing.

Having finished the Korean TV series The Sound of Your Heart, I moved on to The Sound of Your Heart Reboot. True to the title, it offers more shenanigans with webtoon artist Cho Seok and his family but with the roles all recast. Based on a couple episodes, I prefer the cast in the initial series. We’ll see what I think as I make my way through it.

This journal isn’t intended to be comprehensive, but I’m keeping up with new episodes of Black-ish, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Superstore. Brooklyn Nine-Nine has had some strong episodes of late, and I hope this strong ensemble comedy continues to flourish now and find fans when it got a boosted profile switching to NBC last season.


Previous Social Distancing Journal Entries:

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