by Jeffrey Glenn
Philly-based Better Human is the vehicle for University of the Arts alumnus Jessie El Wexler’s brand of psychedelia-tinged progressive alt-rock. A debut single and a series of local concerts as a six-piece introduced audiences to their rich, adventurous yet accessible harmonic language and epic sense of scale, putting them in the stylistic company of local indie rock hero Alex G and Canadian singer-songwriter Sam Roberts. Wexler’s tunes are adorned with a steady supply of earworms to plague the conscious mind long after the show has ended.
When the pandemic hit the East Coast and venues shuttered their doors, Better Human scaled back out of necessity, playing virtual sets in a solo or smaller band configuration with Wexler taking over lead vocals. New single “Complete,” released on Halloween, bears the marks of this transition without sacrificing any of the band‘s core sonic DNA.
In contrast to sprawling first single “Among Thee,” this effort is an economical three-minute alt-pop number, though no less dynamic. “Complete” kicks off with a dense two-chord progression over a crisp breakbeat hearkening back to the hip hop influenced pop of the mid-to-late ‘90s, complete with the era’s rudimentary turntablism. Bass and keys join in on the verse, supporting Wexler’s lilting, nonchalant melody. The energy surges through the pre-chorus as the texture builds to the soaring chorus melody, then all drops out but the guitar as we move to the second verse. Textural touches from producer Sam Carlén and Spenser Forwood’s tom beat drive the song to its peak on the bridge with crashing accents and multi-tracked lead and harmony vocals, followed by another breakdown leading back to the chorus, eventually fading out to the grainy textures of the intro.
The thoughtful production and sensitive arrangement succeed in conveying the material with clarity and impact. Better Human have proved they are up to the challenge of creating great records under the difficult present circumstances, and their wealth of unrecorded live material suggests that listeners should expect much more of the same over the coming year.