LA Littlebear Band’s sixteen song album On the Way to the Forum might be too much of a good thing, but there’s no denying that’s a hell of a ride. It’s an often thrilling creative outburst from a musician and songwriter seldom content to be pinned down for long. Leo Auciello’s personal project shifts more gears in the first half of this album than some more commercially visible bands do over the entirety of their careers and maintains a sharp rock and roll swagger through it all. Auciello’s songs are never lightweight 4/4 fluff riffing on tired clichés. He revitalizes a handful of styles for his own use with great success and elevates many already fine musical arrangements with his distinctive vocals and richly imaginative writing. This Sydney, Australia based singer and songwriter’s newest album will find favor with anyone who likes intelligent, stripped down rock and roll with a penchant for risk taking and a little punk rock attitude tossed in for good measure.
“In the Long Ago” introduces Auciello as a bright, capable rocker with a dyed in the wool punk spirit. It’s never sound and fury signifying nothing, however. Instead, there’s a hard won street wisdom driving the spirit in each of On the Way to the Forum’s sixteen tracks. The guitars have a strong buzzsaw like quality and the rhythm section is handled with just the right amount of abandon. He opens “Daydream” with a rambunctious hop of bass and drums before introducing manic guitars. The initial six string fanfare settles into a power chord groove and the rhythm section keeps things moving at a brisk hop. “The Longest Road” has a surprising commercial edge with its bouncy main guitar figure and the hoarse, bloody wail Auciello dredges up for this will linger in the memory. The same hints of commercial skill distinguishing the aforementioned song help “Future Ride” stand out as well. There’s an ambling, easy grace to this and some surprising moments of eloquence emerging from the lead guitar work. The vocal harmonies are another effective twist on an album full of them.
“Lullabye” has some recognizable elements for popular song, but Auciello twists its familiarity to his advantage with his own approach to music and language alike. The track “Magic” goes in an outright pop direction with a snappy beat and artfully employed keyboard splashes, but Auciello never sounds uncomfortable in these musical surroundings and turns in another stellar vocal. The 180 degree turn he makes with the next song, “Cynical View”, comes off without a hitch. The sheer variety of its approach is quite unlike anything else on On the Way to the Forum and veers towards art rock territory that few songs on the album match. “Deeper than You” is another impressive moment as Auciello unleashes one of his most intense vocals on the release. LA Littlebear Band might be an one man band, in reality, but few collections of musicians could conjure up such a wide ranging release.