The first album by Avantdale Bowling Club, the new moniker of rapper Tom Scott, is released tomorrow. Dominic Hoey (aka Tourettes) reviews the latest work by the rapper who over a decade ago was taking his demos to Tourettes shows.
Writing about music is like talking about dreams. Maybe it’s apt then that the people who do it best often buy into the fantasy that surrounds artists, the drama that goes on outside the studio and off stage, the social media bullshit, and the hype that fills up artists’ bios. With Tom Scott, there’s plenty of controversy and accolades to write about, but what excites me about his album as Avantdale Bowling Club, Years Gone By, is the raw honesty, albeit wrapped in intricate rhyme patterns, that Tom manages to fit into its 40-odd minutes.
Where Home Brew was a celebration of being a broke twenty-something-year-old in Aotearoa, and @peace was testing the limits of where you could take hip-hop music, this album is an artist using their past – fuck-ups and all – to realise a creative vision.
Years Gone By feels like a solo album, but it features a cast of some the country’s top jazz, funk and hip-hop musicians, lending their talents to create swirling beds of music for Tom’s vocals to dance over. The live instrumentation merging with programmed drums and samples to create something both old and new, the past mixing with the present.
There’s a constant pulse, sometimes beating out of control like your heart on a Saturday night bender and suddenly slow as a Monday morning commute, so busy you struggle to keep up with everything that’s being thrown at you. And then there’s little more than words and a few notes, Tom keeping time with the jazz rhythms of Julian Dyne’s drums, then off on his own, multisyllabic rhyme schemes folding in over each other, all the while keeping a completely conversational tone, like someone talking to friends over a few beers.
One of Tom’s talents as a rapper is the feeling that he’s speaking directly to you, and while his music has always leant towards the confessional, on this release the bravado of youth is stripped away, giving his words even more gravity. The themes of change and ageing run throughout Years Gone By as Tom raps about fatherhood, living back in the neighbourhood he grew up in, and the music that influenced his life on the album’s title track.
Maybe it’s having known Tom, from being the dude at my shows asking me to listen to his demos to one of my favourite rappers, but I’m filled with nostalgia and pride listening to tracks like ‘Home’ where he raps about the New Zealand behind the neoliberal whitewash, or ‘F(r)iends’ which sits somewhere between cautionary tale and a homage to loved ones.
Ageing gracefully in hip-hop is tricky, but then Tom’s always been in a constant state of reinvention. All but turning his back on the Home Brew cash cow to make albums about space and philosophy or writing eight-minute songs dedicated to his son Quincy. In a way, this album feels like the start of a new chapter, one free of the shackles of expectation of fame, of an artist content to make the music they want. I guess not giving a fuck is one of the best things about getting older. Especially when your career is your ideas and turning your life into something strangers want to consume.
Years Gone By manages to be both moving and political, deeply personal while speaking to anyone who’s working their ass off to put their landlord’s kid through university. As an album, it cements Tom as not just one of New Zealand’s best rappers, but one of the better songwriters working in any genre. And I don’t even like jazz.
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