Big 10-4

Testing the Atmosphere

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Testing the Atmosphere, the debut album from Orlando quartet Big 10-4, is a modern-rock record in every sense of the word -- not just because the band reworks the alt-rock sound that has been considered modern rock since about 1992, but because they also present a modern spin on that sound. They may borrow a song title from Tool on "Undertow" and the title "Deadman" brings to mind Core-era Stone Temple Pilots, but that's just the tip of the iceberg on grunge-era allusions. Throughout this album, they clearly draw heavily from the surging guitars and omnipresent angst that defined '90s alt-rock -- admittedly part of this does come from alt-rock vet Matt Wallace, who mixed the record -- but lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Dan Verduin has a strident, heart-on-his-sleeve vocal style and a tendency to bleed emotion all over the page that would seem appropriate in a straight-up emo band. But Big 10-4 is a straight-up rock band, favoring big guitars and big hooks, which makes Testing the Atmosphere a bit odd, since it has the emotional undercurrent of emo and the sound of post-grunge. As such, they come across a bit like a sincere, Everyman variation on Third Eye Blind -- their hooks are ingratiating, not immediate, but they are there, and after a few listens, they worm their way into your memory. The hooks are big enough to warrant this big production, but Verduin's pedestrian voice kind of gets overwhelmed in the washes of sound; it's not forceful enough to be heard through the walls of guitars, which can occasionally make the songs seem a little samier than they are. But, taken on a track-by-track basis -- particularly on the opening trio of "Walking Disaster," "Long Night (Sleepless)," and "Irony Is Thick" -- Testing the Atmosphere is a promising mainstream rock debut: if Big 10-4 would, ironically enough, sound a little better if they weren't so big, this album does show they have the basic building blocks of a good modern modern-rock band.

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