In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re highlighting the songs we’ve listened to the most this year from our iTunes or on our Spotifys, Rdios, or stereos.
As a piece of filmmaking, Cinemax’s The Knick had me from the start. It wasn’t just the immaculately framed image of Clive Owen’s white boots against the lurid reds of an early 20th-century opium den—though it was partially that. It was also the scene’s disorienting electronic score, throbbing textures that gave Dr. John Thackery’s alienation an unapologetically anachronistic sound. But like that composition—“Son Of Placenta Previa,” so named for the complication at the center of The Knick’s first (and far from last) gory operating-theater sequence—Thack is cleverly out of step with the times. At the dawn of modern surgery, the doctor is journeying beyond human understanding, and just as he did for the explorers in Steven Soderbergh’s version of Solaris, Cliff Martinez is there to provide the soundtrack.
The older I get, the more isolated I feel from what’s happening in contemporary music, the more I’m inclined toward stuff like the Knick score, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ Gone Girl soundtrack, or the unwound cassingles of Actress’ Ghettoville: spacious, patient, frequently wordless, often recommended by resident A.V. Club drone expert Sean O’Neal. I don’t relate to Thack’s jaundiced POV or his martyr’s exile, but I did feel a lot of my “2014 in music thoughts” wrapped up in this one sentence about the seemingly infinite shimmer of Bing & Ruth’s “The Towns We Love Is Our Town”: “Words are terrible. Our only hope is in everyone shutting up.” The Knick places its only hope in a new frontier, and Martinez synthesized that hope into sonic atmosphere better suited for the final frontier, drafting off the sense of discovery in Jack Amiel and Michael Begler’s scripts and the otherwordly-to-us technology in front of Soderbergh’s camera. This year, I didn’t come across a lot of new lyrics that moved me or inspired me; what tended to grab me was the music that took time to enthrall me, to set a scene like “Son Of Placenta Previa” and the opening passages of The Knick. 2014 was characterized by so much verbal droning, so I’m grateful to people like Martinez, who let their instruments do the droning for them.