Chino Amobi's Debut Album Is an Eerie Radio Broadcast for the End Times

The Virginia producer's 'Paradiso'—aided by Elysia Crampton and Rabit, among others—mirrors the chaos and euphoria of our world.
May 4, 2017, 10:16pm
Photo by Sam Clarke

Chino Amobi's debut album begins at the right hand of Death. Crashing waves fill the background of the opener "Law I (A City in the Sea)" as a voice—belonging to Amobi's friend, the multimedia artist Elysia Crampton—details the "proud tower" upon which the reaper sits. In a strange city called Paradiso, which shares its name with the title of the record, Death sits exalted, surrounded by defensive turrets and "pendulous" shadows mingling in creeping darkness. Hell rises to meet the town, and Crampton intones, "Death looks gigantically down."

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Amobi has explored such apocalypsis before. Since 2014, the Virginia-based producer and composer has been best known as one of the cofounders of NON Worldwide, a collective and label whose stated goal is to redistribute society's power through calamitous sound art. His solo work has mostly lived up to that promise—the distorted creep of last year's Airport Music for Black Folk called into question the idea that ambient music could be a proper soundtrack for government-patrolled spaces.

Paradiso explores similar themes—"Antikeimnon" features the refrain "You want democracy? You want freedom? You're crazy"—but its scope is a little different. The record is long; at 20 songs over the course of 66 minutes it affords him a widescreen range that suits his world-shattering intentions, one that can explore the complexities of life in the 21st century. It seems like no accident that the title is shared with one of the Western world's great epics.

What follows that heavy opening is a thunderous slog through the sludge of Americana. Death hovers overhead as Amobi launches through industrial squeaks, jaundiced noise, abstract rap, tortured garage rock, and harrowed spoken meditations about mythical figures. He covers a lot more ground than he ever has before, finding destruction and chaos wherever he goes. Somehow it works, even as he jumps between disparate genres within the same songs. "Eigengrau" crushes together trance arpeggios, splatter-painted rapping, and a spectral chorus into a dizzy blur. It's like a siren's song, but the distant voice isn't promising paradise—just the release that of sailing headlong into the rocks. Many futurist producers attempt to meld genres, but Amobi's attempts to do so feel uniquely bleak.

Still, no journey as grand as this is one-dimensional. Even amid the terror, there's a sense of strange celebration, as seemingly anyone who's ever been in Amobi's musical orbit makes an appearance on the record. Alongside Crampton, there's contributions from similarly destructive producers like Rabit and Dutch E Germ, as well as Aurel Haize Obogbo, the rapper Haleek Maul, Full Carnage, Jesse Hlebo, Benja SL, Rena Anakwe, Therochelle Moore, Lee Jones, Johnny Utterback, and NON signees Embaci, FAKA, and Moro. They come from different worlds, but their presence gives a strange momentum to these mangled pieces. Tracks that might otherwise stew in their malaise—like the four-on-the-floor fanfare of "Blackout" or the seasick "Nkisi (Edit)"—barrel forward with the energy of collectivity. It's the euphoria of heading out into a dark night with your friends—whether to a party or into battle.

At least some of that ecstasy was baked into the concept of Paradiso. There's a strange playfulness to parts of it, despite morbid lyrics like, "Life is getting colder / It's getting colder." Several times throughout the record a high-energy radio ID for a fictional station—"You are now listening to… NON Worldwide radio"—slides through the mix. This booming FM dispatch recast Amobi's poetic recitations and bombed-out soundscapes not as reporting but as an antique radio play. When you're driving through the valley of the shadow of death, you can reach for the dial, tune into Paradiso, and fear no evil.

Chino Amobi's Paradiso is streaming now on his website. For more read our Spotlight interview with Amobi from 2016.