PrintE-mail Written by Nick Spacek

Cliff Martinez's score for the second season of the Cinemax series, The Knick, is as tightly-wound a collection of music as one would expect for a show that frequently deals in touch-and-go situations. The frequently utilised steel drums bring to mind Martinez's work for Solaris, and when one considers the stakes for the operations in both instances, it makes total sense.

The score is a bundle of nerves all the way through, but the manner in which the composer expresses the various emotions connected to the tension is what makes The Knick's second season score so interesting. The electronic throbbing and pulsing seems most influenced by the likes of Jamaican dub reggae, working quietly as it does. The impending sense of “something is going to happen” or “something is happening” is demonstrated not so much by the music, but by the space within. 

Listening, the music will go from the dense first track of “Dearest John,” packed as it is with steel drums; to the wide-open and swirling “It's My Eye.” That is followed by “If Anyman Thirst,” with a sparse guitar line trading places for a calliope. It all changes so quickly, but the underpinnings of relentless forward movement and unseen dangers or threats keep, in Martinez's score.

“Get Well or Jump Off” is a paranoid delusion of tense energy, but it's most effective because of the repeated dips into slowed-down, quiet passages. The middle third drops out most of the heavier tones, leaving one with a metronomic drumbeat accented by trippy, dubbed-out horns. It then ramps up intensely, right at the end. It's the best piece on the album, and nigh on impossible to stop listening to. However, it's very taut, and leaves you feeling so tense afterward, that you may need of a drink and a lie-down. 

“Humiliating Sewage” and “Sonia XXL” are so quiet, one wonders if pieces were left out, forgotten in the digital cutting and pasting that is editing these days. Their emphasis on needing to listen and pay attention really puts forth the sense that Martinez is trying to get the listener to really notice what is happening. They're so absolutely different in execution, though, so these tracks seem a bit of an anomaly.

That is a point almost complimented by the penultimate track. Whereas the two pieces mentioned previously stand out because of their almost overt restraint, “Do You Smell That” is so big, so loud, so absolutely action-oriented; it can't help but appear to be a statement of “now look at this!” Still, though: there is that tension, and when the volume drops, and there's a xylophone plinking out notes while the electronics subtly continue underneath, we are as listeners aware of the impending explosion which is to come. 

The electronic score's notes of analog instrumentation are what really elevate The Knick Season 2 over and above what might be a standard bit of music. Tension's readily achieved when one goes and goes and goes, but Cliff Martinez's willingness to pull back and let things build back up shows off the fact that this is a man who knows what he's doing, and he knows how to do it well.


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