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Time Again to Put on Your Gameface : Gameface: "ThreetogetReady" Dr. Strange Records ** 1/2

February 16, 1996|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On its second CD, Gameface still sounds a lot like its precursor on the Orange County punk scene, Big Drill Car. But with BDC disbanded, the field is clear for Gameface's brand of taut blitz-pop. The essential elements are clean, meaty guitar riffs that move like supercharged Sherman tanks and singer Jeff Caudill's reedy emotionalism.

This is earnest, urgent music with a capital E and U, and Gameface manages to pull it off without seeming self-important. The racing, compulsive movement of the three-piece instrumental ensemble, lyrics that seem like diary entries, burrowing deep into nerve-fraying concerns, and Caudill's ability to convey the feeling that he's singing for his very life draw us into Gameface's uncertain, embattled world.

The album proceeds from wistful remembrances of the simple but fleeting bonds of friendship forged in childhood to troubled meditations on thornier adult relationships and the tribulations of being in a band trying to make its way on the do-it-yourself indie-rock circuit.

"My back is sticking to the seat / My heart is sticking to my dreams / I guess I'm just gonna sit back and try to enjoy the ride," Caudill sings in "June," which nicely captures Gameface's mixture of youthful aspirations and doubts.

"Only Chance We Get" exemplifies the band's ambivalent outlook: It holds out rock performance as a doorway to transcendence, but even as he tries to soar into this better reality, Caudill can't stop looking down at the wearisome day-to-dayness he'll encounter when the music stops.

"Gibberish" is a touching song, a troubled protagonist's profession of appreciation to a forbearing companion who's riding out the bumps with him. "Home" ends the roller-coaster ride on a hopeful, affirmative note.

The most hopeful development is the foursome's occasional willingness to lay off the accelerator and explore slower tempos and softer dynamics. On "Three," taken at moderate speed, Gameface finds the middle ground between a brawnily urgent Husker Du and a wistfully choke-throated Gin Blossoms. Artistically and perhaps commercially, that could prove a heck of a good place to be.

(Available from Dr. Strange Records, P.O. Box 7000-117, Alta Loma, CA 91701, or via the World Wide Web at http://www.cyberg8t.com/drstrange)

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