A spectre is haunting contemporary rap – the spectre of Tom Scott. Weird political jokes aside, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Tom Scott is the best rapper who remains largely undiscovered. Whether he remains unknown due to living in New Zealand (as opposed to the hotspots of hip-hop culture), his dedication to jazz instrumentals or just plain bad luck, every album Scott has appeared on has been brilliant. Whether it be his work with his previous groups, Home Brew and @Peace, or this album with Avantdale Bowling Club, Scott has proven himself time and time again as a ridiculously talented lyricist, with the rhythmic agility of recently passed legend MF DOOM and a similar sound to that which Kendrick Lamar popularised with his masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly.
Avantdale Bowling Club’s first album, named after the group, released in mid-2018 to muted acclaim – those who found it adored it, but it remained obscure, just as Scott’s previous projects had. Slowly, however, word of mouth spread, and the album has started to become a cult classic for fans of conscious rap and jazz rap – this slow increase of die-hard fans of the record should be increasing 10 times faster, as Avantdale Bowling Club is (somehow) a sonically perfect 54 minutes, full of gorgeous, frenetic jazz instrumentals and some of the best lyrics ever written.
The album opens with ‘Years Gone By’, detailing Scott’s entire life by having him wax poetic on each year of his life, dedicating a line or two to the highlights from childhood to now. It has a beautiful, quickly-moving jazz backing that lets Scott take the foreground when rapping but otherwise flies off into improvised riffs that pack their own punch too. Track two, ‘Pocket Lint’, sees him go into more detail on his financial struggles, describing in a seriously intense vocal performance his anger at not being able to ‘afford a home in my homeland.’
‘F(r)iends’ – maybe the best song here – shifts focus to Scott’s struggle with addiction, explaining how when he was younger, drugs served only to make life more exciting but then looking at the brutal aftermath – dead friends, struggling to quit using and running from childhood traumas to no avail. The beat is a little more traditional, primarily focused on the drums (peppered with great, violent cymbal crashes throughout), but Scott’s lyrics and performance completely steal the show. The track that follows, ‘Water Medley’, is a long-form experimental track – a three-part variation, the first being about global warming, the second being about Scott’s love for the arts and the third transitioning into a more introspective verse about how Scott really is only focused on making music out of his love for hip-hop, for his son and for his friends. ‘Old Dogs’ is a more relaxed track, nostalgic for time passed, and ‘Home’ is a staggeringly beautiful political song about New Zealand’s imperialism and current political issues – it has to be heard to be believed.
‘Quincy’s March’ is the album’s climax, exploring fully how Scott has found redemption in his son (‘His laugh is like a sonata, composed by Charlie Parker’) from the rough past that chased him for so long. It is the perfect ending to an impossibly beautiful album, one of swarming, busy yet gorgeous instrumentals, some of the most memorable and moving lyrics of recent memory and one of the best vocal performances in rap history. It’s a political, emotional epic, always slick musically and moving lyrically… and still, the album remains harshly overlooked.
Avantdale Bowling Club is available to listen to now via Years Gone By. Listen to the track ‘F(r)iends’ below.