* This alternative-rock music magazine, which celebrated its first anniversary in September, was recently bought out by the Time Warner publications empire.

Since the change, its circulation has more than doubled (from 55,000 to 120,000); its office space has been upgraded (from the publisher's dining room to a fancy loft in Santa Monica, Calif.); and its defiant format (photos and text are often indecipherable) has remained untouched.

The Ray Gun look that lured Time Warner is, at its best, frozen MTV. Those unschooled in MTV are bound to be flipped out by flipping through this magazine: Photos tend to spin off pages, as does text, which is cast in oddball shapes and weird fonts. (Sixteen ``font designers'' are on staff.) As Randy Bookasta, the magazine's editor in chief, puts it: ``We're a state-of-the-art `fanzine' that's excited about music, presented in a high-slick, high-gloss form.''

The magazine's off-the-wall and somewhat risque persona reaches a trendy college crowd, adorned in grunge, and with fists raised in spunky - albeit wholesome - rebellion. The music they follow, which Ray Gun captures, rocks harder than Top 40, but not as hard as heavy metal. Many of these bands are gender-mixed, and their garage-style sound has a distinctive raggedy, quirky, ethereal resonance.

As Ray Gun sets out to encapsulate visually this offbeat, yet sincere, new brand of rock-and-roll, it anchors the chaotic imagery with a good dose of thoughtful text.

Signature features include well-known artist interviews (or artwork) written by other well-known artists, and ``Print in Sound,'' a series of artwork from readers inspired by specific songs. Every issue offers a hefty roundup of CD reviews written by amusing and clear-eyed critics. This wacky, swirly monthly sells for $3.50.

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