In terms of modern New Zealand hip-hop, if you could call anyone the OG it would have to be Tom Scott. After carving out a successful ten-year career with Home Brew, @Peace, and Average Rap Band, Scott has returned with his first solo album Avantdale Bowling Club, and as debut solo projects go, this one is an absolute treasure.
Scott began this album four years ago and has spent a long time in the studio with friends and regular musical collaborators such as Julian Dyne, Christoph El Truento, and Haz Beats, writing and recording to ensure his first up solo effort was perfect. In that time, there was also the important matter of becoming a father which has very much influenced the direction this album has taken.
With this, Avantdale Bowling Club is arguably Scott’s most personal project yet and sees him at the crossroads in his professional and personal life both looking back and forward simultaneously. He describes the album as being about growing up and accepting responsibility, while also labelling it as a self-help book addressed to himself.
This overall direction is set to what Scott calls “irrelevant jazz from an island nation off the coast of Antarctica.” Irrelevant jazz might be a bit of a stretch, however, because the jazz arrangements on here are carefully crafted and superbly arranged to suit the lyrical content conjuring up almost a John Coltrane-like feel.
The album begins with the first single Years Gone By, one of Scott’s most beautiful songs which seems him counting forward year by year of his life while namedropping important events in it. It is as autobiographical as he has ever sounded and is really the heart of the album, setting the scene for what is to come.
The reflective jazzy opener is followed by the bouncy Pocket Lint with its flourishes of sax, trumpet, and barber shop-styled backing vocals, and F(R)Iends which in many ways harks back to Home Brew with its experimental beats and Scott’s effortless vocal flow.
We then get to the meat of the album where Scott lays it all on the table both lyrically and musically. The experimental Water Medley which features TEEKS and Esther Stephens on backing vocals is a nine-minute downtempo track where Scott puts down some stunning lines such as “I don’t worship landlords, I live the lands law.” Then there is Old Dogs, a playful, chilled out track about simpler times featuring former Opensouls members Chip Mathews and Jeremy Toy on bass and guitar respectively.
Listening to this record I am reminded of how vivid Scott’s lyricism is. He forces you to listen to the lyrics to the point the jazz arrangements are reduced to almost background noise. I would describe him as being New Zealand rap’s Ray Davies, that is how vivid the imagery is in his writing and how powerful his storytelling is.
Out of all the tracks, Home is where this vividness comes to the fore the most. This gorgeous track, one of his best, sees Scott recounting his move from Melbourne back to his home of Avondale in west Auckland. Scott’s socially-charged vocals float over a delicate Jonathan Crayford piano arrangement and some haunting backing vocals from Mara TK in what might just be the album’s best moment.
The record then winds down with Quincy’s March, a song about becoming a father “first time in ten years that I have felt home, found hope in the mundane,” “I push my king in his chariot on a Sunday at the market,” before closing with the experimental jazz instrumental Tea Break.
In conclusion, Avantdale Bowling Club is an excellent return from Scott after a few years in the wilderness. The son of a jazz musician, he has embraced this musical side of him to very good effect employing some excellent musicians to lay down arrangements worthy of such wonderful song-writing.
This batch of songs is no doubt some of his best work and showcase a man at peace with himself and his career trajectory. What next for Tom remains to be seen, however, for now, we can marvel in his latest offering which well and truly cements his spot as one of New Zealand’s best ever lyricists.
This review was originally published on Radio 13. Click here.