Avantdale Bowling Club
Avantdale Bowling Club
Years Gone By
Avantdale Bowling Club is the name of the new project by rapper Tom Scott. He was the voice of Home Brew and @ Peace, the Average Rap Band too. A prolific rhyme-artist, Scott delighted in parading juvenilia; displaying awkward truths, social conscience and biting political commentary in and around dumb jokes, dick jokes and slick grooves.
With Avantdale, and the debut, self-titled album, the game has changed. This is growing-up time, and though it’s nominally a solo album, it relies on a cast of the country’s best jazz, soul and funk players; yes, it’s Tom Scott’s vision still – but he needs these players, and they need him. He’s created a platform here for some virtuoso playing, or through their virtuoso playing he’s been able to fully realise his story. And this is his story. Almost a musical memoir, an autobiography in rhyme, at its very best (as on opening track, the dazzling seven-minute stretch of Years Gone By) it is relentless, thoughtful, almost emotionally overwhelming. The rolling, tumbling drums (Julien Dyne) recall Elvin Jones’s stint as the backbone of the classic John Coltrane quartet and set up the framework for explorations around jazz themes that could have almost been lifted directly from records by Hubert Laws, Eric Dolphy, Don Cherry and most overtly Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, yet seem organic, never straight out stolen, plenty of doffing of the cap if anything.
Avantdale Bowling Club pulses and charges, it’s uplifting and rewarding and yet there’s something very deep and profound within the grooves of this record. There’s a life laid bare here. It’s one of the greatest musical statements I’ve heard from a New Zealand artist. It’s almost as if Scott has devised a soundtrack to a bleak but beautiful Kiwi roadtrip. This is Taika’s Two Cars, One Night as hip-hop record; it’s soul-jazz for and about the grit resides in and around heartland Aotearoa – simultaneously this is the document, the documentary, and Scott, as director is there to provide the commentary. Just sitting with this album, listening to it is almost to feel like you’re rolling with the window down, eavesdropping, a voyeur, taking in front-lawn squabbles over rent not met, and late night kerfuffles over the family’s budget being used for a back-alley fix, some handshake drugs in place of the new shoes for the kid.
That kid – Tom Scott – is now a father. That’s reflected in the verses collected here also. This is his public declaration of love for his partner and child; one cycle broken, a new circle created. It’s also the inner city blues that have made him want to holler. Bottled up, spat out in some of the rhymes on previous albums too, this is the real home brew.
“Haves don’t want to know what I don’t have”, he decries with incredulity on Pocket Lint.
It might be the sharpest, quickest summary of the real political divide in New Zealand, if not the world.
What gets this way over the line, and removes any sadness, any guilt, and grimness – though never excusing any of it – is the huge heart of offer. This is a life’s work right here. Kendrick Lamar won a Pultizer Prize for a rap record. And in much the same way Tom Scott and his musicians here have created one of the best books or movies to come out of New Zealand since Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors created a stir. That he’s done it on an album that is danceable, hip, hooky and beautifully soulful is extra icing. The cake he’s baked is soulfood for one and all. Hugely personal, a giant unpacking.
We should be honouring this with not just our (worthless) music awards – but a literary reward. This is worthy of a Prime Ministerial arts grant.
It’s not just the local album of the year, not just one of my favourite records in a decade or more, it’s an event, something bigger, wider, deeper than just an album, than just some raps; it’s pure poetry, incredible writing, it’s a huge learned journey borne of lived experience.