Masquerade in the Key of Crime: A Freegal Album Review
Masquerade in the Key of Crime is the first album from New York-based band, The Stryder. Released in September of 2000 through Equal Vision Records, it’s also their best. Granted they only released two as a group. What is the meaning or significance of the title and how does it relate to the album conceptually or artistically? I haven’t a clue, but the imagery is nice and thematically consistent with the album’s feel. Why review a twenty-year-old, relatively obscure album from a band that is no longer together? Because it’s totally decent and totally free for our patrons to stream. If you’re reading this review and you haven’t seen our post regarding our music streaming service Freegal, I recommend checking that out first.
Being a musician and home studio hobbyist, I’d like to believe that I have a pretty analytical ear. However, what makes music appealing is highly subjective and dependent on listener preferences. If you’re a rock or indie rock fan I think this album will interest you. Firmly in the Emo / Post-Hardcore / Indie phase of the early 2000s, the band’s sound is reminiscent of acts like Saves the Day, Brand New, The Get Up Kids, and the like. If you’ve never heard of these genres or bands, don’t worry about the particulars of subgenres or influence. It’s a rock album through and through.
Before tackling individual tracks, I’d like to address the overall sound of the album. Oddly enough, I stumbled across this group while researching guitar tones. The guitars are crunchy, articulate, and dynamic in the mix. These tonal characteristics allow them to pull off more subdued and gentle lines that pepper the album while still retaining a good bite. The drum mixing complements the tone and style well. The kick response is punchy, and the snare is tight and bright, with a wide reverb and heavy diffusion that give it an almost 80’s like effect. Vocals are well seated and the backing harmonies sound great but are too reserved and sparse to be of note. As for the low end, it’s unfortunately absent. The bass, when you can distinguish it, tends to follow the guitar lines and never really cuts through the mix. I won’t bore you with a track by track analysis, but we’ll look at a couple of the standouts.
The album opener “Sucker” is a good introduction to what this band has to offer. Fast-paced drums, hammered guitars, and strained vocal lines pounce at the listener. The band's post-hardcore influences shine in this first track showcasing their ability to add a bit of rhythmic variety to what would otherwise be a basic power chord drive. The vocals are plainly presented with a simple verse-chorus structure that the instrumentation takes full advantage of by way of transitional refrains. The stripped-down lyrics deal with the expected themes for this style. “Your excuses and your lies” howls singer John Johansen, his angst directed at a lover that apparently played him for a fool. Overall, “Sucker” is typical of the album’s sound.
The third track, “11:11” appears to be the fan-favorite based on listener reviews posted around the web. However, the real gem on this album comes from the next track, “My Plastic You.” Here the band exercises a little restraint and pulls back on the highly energized openings of previous tracks, instead opting for a soft vocal-driven lament about a long-distance relationship. After a brief build up the song rips open into staccato with pounding distortion, thundering drums, and the vocal chorus. The album has some great vocal hooks and “My Plastic You” is a prime example of their ability to write ear warming melodies.
There are quite a few honorable mentions in the album’s track listing such as “King of Coronas,” “Sexy Black Train,” and “Intoxicated.” These tracks are solid bangers and the rest of the album is no slouch either. The only real low point here is the closing song “Key of Crime.” A meandering, mostly acoustic affair. This cut fails in its attempt to end the album on a softer, more emotional note. Rather it compels the listener to end the album abruptly rather than endure the boredom of the final track.
Masquerade in the Key of Crime is an excellent representation of the general mood and direction of indie rock during its time. A sonic time capsule, the album captures a youthful innocence in its performance. It’s a solid album and a great debut for an unknown band. If you dig this band’s sound, I highly recommend Fairweather’s If They Move, Kill Them, also released by Equal Vision Records and available on Freegal. While The Stryder won’t be replacing any of my current favorite bands, I’m grateful I came across them.
Did you give it a listen? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the album. And if you enjoy these types of reviews please let us know in the comments.
Written by Michael Ireland