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Camp X-Ray by Jess Stroup (Review)

posted Oct 16, 2014, 6:24 PM by   [ updated Oct 16, 2014, 6:26 PM ]

Camp X-Ray debuted at Sundance this past year and gained much notoriety, with apparently amazing performances by Kirsten Stewart and Peyman Moaadi. The film's score was composed by relative newcomer Jess Stroup.

Stroup has been making his way in the film music world, working as a musician, programmer, and writing additional music for films like Horrible Bosses 2, Walk of Shame, and Identity Thief. Camp X-Ray is a departure sonically from those films and utilizes a very different soundscape. Indie drama scores usually fall into the guitar heavy or synth heavy, minimalistic categories. Camp X-Ray is on the synth side of the scale, but really creates a sound that feels very unique. One could imagine employing the Middle Eastern or military sounds to reflect the circumstances of a guard befriending a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, but Stroup holds back on the heavy emotionality in the music. A great theme is presented in the opener, “Departure” and repeated again in “Dismissed”. In those cues, synths that add a sound of danger are contrasted with beautiful Gustavo Santaollala-like guitar playing. This sound seems to exemplify the score as a whole as it often contrasts between dreamy, ambient synths, (cues like “Empty Hallways 1,2,3” and “Writing the Memo”) with a harder, tension building sound (“The Cocktail” and “The Shower”). 

In general, scores like this are hard to examine outside the context of the film, and I am usually not excited by the sound, but this one is different. The album does have a few cues that repeat themselves and bleed into each other, but there is something in Stroup’s music (and the short album on which it is presented) that caught my ear, as I feel you can sense the musician’s hand behind it, not just a button pusher. There are peaks and valleys to the score even in it’s musically reserved sound. It reminded me of Mark Isham’s score to Crash, without the revelatory climax of that score, but the musical restraint that was shown in the early scenes in that film, and it’s interesting use of synths.

On the surface, the score falls into the “synth background music” category, but because the music is cohesive and doesn’t fall into the “just noise” category (Looking at you Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross) I recommend having a listen. The album is perfectly presented at 25 minutes, and the soundscape presented by Stroup makes me excited to see the film.