At the top of “Down in Waves,” The Flips’ Nick Sintos asks: “Where’d you get your darkness from?” That sentiment is central to The Flips’ sophomore album, Better Days, and it’s one they examine carefully over the course of ten searing tracks.
Better Days, the Chicago quintet’s impressive step up from their debut album A Harm Deep But Shining, comes with some unhappy subtext. “Half the album was written while I was learning about my mental illness, and half was written after my suicide attempt,” Sintos explains. As he recovered from that attempt, the main theme of Better Days crystallized: “It’s mostly about mental illness, and trying to live with it. Dealing with it, staying optimistic about the future, trying to get better.”
To that end, he’s assembled a deep bench of talent to back him. Bassist Maccabee Kelem is the band’s most recent recruit, who nonetheless shines like he’s always belonged. Guitarist Dustin Martin fills the album with counterpoints to Sintos’ meditations, while keyboardist Annette Nowacki provides backing vocals that perfectly shadow his own. And drummer Mike Carlson, in addition to being a founding Flips member and impromptu beard champion, positions himself as the immoveable object against which his bandmates’ irresistible force can rage.
And rage they do. The Flips have opted for a direct approach to Better Days, stripping away every obstacle between you and their exposed nerves. The title track, which leads the album off, serves as a heavy, crescendoing thesis for the other nine to expound upon. “No Hope For Me” is propulsive and raw, but never more so than when the instruments fall away, leaving only bare voices to intone its haunting title. But the hardest-hitting is “Ideations,” a perfect microcosm of Better Days as a whole: honest, direct, and overflowing with ideas, questions, and desires.
While the album is deeply personal in nature, every member of The Flips related to the subject matter. “Everyone has their own demons,” says Kelem, “so everyone found something to connect with.”
“We decided this time we wanted to write a happier album,” Nowacki deadpans, to laughter from the other four.
But it’s Sintos who sums things up best: “All we’ve ever tried to do is make the biggest and most earnest rock n’ roll that we could,” he says. “And that’s what we did.”