Closet Mix staggers to the dawn on ‘04CD’

The new album from the Columbus indie-rock vets, out today (Friday, March 29), finds the musicians torn between wanting to see change and a fear it might already be too late.
Closet Mix
Closet MixCourtesy the band

There’s a tension at the core of 04CD (Old 3C Label Group), the new full-length from Closet Mix, arising from the tug the musicians feel between a desire to bring change and a belief that it’s already too late.

“My soul says to keep on trying,” singer/bassist Paul Nini offers on “Sanctuary City,” a track that dates back to the Donald Trump presidency and finds fresh life as a defiant guitar anthem here. But two songs later, he pivots with “Too Drunk to Care,” certain that “our time has gone/too many particles have staggered to the dawn.” 

The idea that time is running out in a recurring theme on 04CD, out today (Friday, March 29), Paul Nini singing: “Winter’s almost here”; “The window’s closing fast”; “No more hills to climb.”

“We were too late 20 years ago, too,” said Paul Nini, joined by Closet Mix bandmates Chris Nini (keyboard), Keith Novicki (guitar) and Dan Della Flora (drums) for a late March interview at Secret Studio, where the group recorded its new album alongside engineer Keith Hanlon. “This is the same situation we’ve been in since Nixon, as far as I’m concerned. And I know I’m old and not everyone remembers the Nixon years. But for me, that’s where everything started going downhill fast. … And, yeah, to me it does feel too late. And it feels like some of this stuff should have been fixed a long time ago – especially when you think about the environment. We’ve known this for decades, but we keep just kicking that can down the road.”

On the album opening “Hey World/1000 Fahrenheit,” the band members appear to take a degree of responsibility for their generation’s seeming inaction in the face of this decade-spanning devolution, Paul Nini and Co. offering up mea culpas for everything from “the mess we made” to the existence of the CIA and the DOA, the list growing so expansive that it gradually becomes clear that the band has its tongue planted at least partially in cheek. “It’s serious in that it’s all this stuff we probably should be apologizing for,” Paul Nini said. “At the same time, there’s so much that it gets ridiculous. So, there’s some sick humor, in a way.”

A handful of the songs on the album date back as early as 2017, with a majority of the more political turns emerging during the Trump years. These include “The Bastards Won Again,” written shortly after the 2016 election, the buzzing instrumental “Enter the Electron,” which for a time had the working title “Manafort,” and “Sanctuary City,” which serves as a counter punch, of sorts, to the sense of resignation seen elsewhere on the album. “I’m probably a little more defeatist now,” Paul Nini said when asked how his perspective on these mounting social and political issues had shifted over the last couple of decades. “But I feel like you still have to say something sometimes. Not that it has much effect.”

Other tracks took shape post-pandemic, including “Hell Is Other People,” which Chris Nini said stemmed from a Covid-era realization that “things were hellish, and it was mostly due to other people.” (Asked to elaborate on this idea, he declined.)

While the bulk of the album centers the missteps of the past and a building dread for the future, at least one song hits pause to take in the here and now. On “Another Summer Come and Gone,” a jangly turn that radiates spring warmth, the band sings of embracing simple pleasures, catching fireflies in the rain and taking weekend drives, windows open to the breeze. “I don’t remember exactly where that came from or when, but it was probably one of those moments where I was like, ‘Shit, school’s starting again, summer's already over,’” Paul Nini said. “The years go faster as you get older. That’s a fact.”

Paul Nini said that oftentimes when he’s writing, he’s drawn more to the shape and sound of the words, and on occasion months or even years can pass before he has a fuller sense of what he might have been wrestling with in that moment. As an example, he pointed to the line “no more closing time” on “The Bastards Win Again,” saying, “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I liked the way it sounded, so that’s why it’s there.”

“But it’s your consciousness coming out, right?” Novicki countered. “The reason you’re attracted to something is because your brain is dealing with something that maybe you’re not even aware of at the time.”

Once Paul Nini has an initial skeleton, he brings the song to the other musicians to flesh out, the four moving with a sense of purpose at odds with the “jamming” label sometimes affixed to this process. “It’s more like working for us,” Della Flora said.

While Paul Nini might handle the initial framing, he said the direction a song takes once folded into Closet Mix is something over which he holds little sway, with each member crafting their own parts, some of which can pull a track in directions the singer never imagined. 

“On ‘Sanctuary City,’ on the beginning of that song, we start off kind of quiet and there are some dynamics where Dan changes the beat a little bit and it goes into a different thing, and I didn’t hear any of that in my head when I wrote it,” said Paul Nini, who credited this well-honed chemistry in part to the years the four indie-rock vets logged in bands such as Great Plains, Log and Peck of Snide, among others. “I’m just playing bass and singing. I don’t have that much control over the rest of it.”

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