If you’re going to call your album Alternative Classics, you better make damn sure that it lives up to its name. ViewMaster’s first full-length almost does. A more appropriate title would have been Pretty Good Alternative Songs; at worst it would have come off as lacking in confidence, and at best it would have been hilariously self-deprecating, because in the end that is exactly what they are offering. You won’t be able to pinpoint any shitty moments, but you won’t have your mind blown either. The problem is that the band seems to be trying too hard to model their music after proven classics instead of running their own race. Sure, they ultimately jump the hurdle, but not without a wobble or two.
ViewMaster’s Alternative Classics is very much an homage as much as it is an attempt to pack concert houses and receive underground glory. Late 80s and early 90s post-punk is all over this thing. Even though they don’t add anything new to the conversation, it is clear that these guys know their shit. It certainly adds replay value, in that you can play a guessing game which band their music is most indebted to. I could name you at least twenty bands, but I think it comes down to Sonic Youth and Husker Du. Closer “Resigned and Aligned” is a noble attempt to write their very own “Teen Age Riot,” and “Bonding Over Nothing” combines grittier verses with an extremely poppy chorus in the same way Bob Mould and Grant Hart used to do.
If you love this stuff as much as I do then you will still find quite a bit to appreciate. Bandleader John Johnston’s wiry, squawking, distorted guitar is wonderfully reminiscent of Wipers‘ Greg Sage, and his vocal stylings are a fantastic mismatch of 80s indie darlings like Thurston Moore, D.Boon, and Mr. Mould. Considering how vastly underrated yet influential this period of alternative music remains in the grand scheme of rock music, it is highly respectable that these guys want to pay tribute and springboard from it. It also ensures that ViewMaster will sound fresh, because really, when was the last time you heard Mission of Burma on the radio?
Despite how likable all these songs are, and how competently they are performed, besides the two I have mentioned, I don’t find them very memorable. A lot of the songs bleed into one another and songs like “Caved In” and “Self-Preservation” are easy to gloss over entirely. Another glaring issue is the track listing. “Intro” is completely and utterly pointless, and pretty much the definition of filler. It must have been added to create suspense before “Bridge and Tunnel.” Not only does it not accomplish this, “Bridge and Tunnel” isn’t even that epic of an opener! They should have given the spot to the much more appropriate “Resigned and Aligned” as it is anthemic and thus has a long and winding introduction lodged in its DNA.
If you adore 80s and 90s underground music it’s safe to say you should check this record out! It probably won’t make your classic collection, nor will half of its tracks be remembered for years to come, but you will definitely dig it while it’s on. Even if ViewMaster has the chops, they probably should have held on to the album title for a future release. Who knows though? With a little more growth and experimentation they could very well be calling their next release Alternative Masterpieces.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Kate Erickson