A few years back, scenesters were talking a lot about the offbeat D.C. indie-rock band Laughing Man. Made up partly of transplants from Philadelphia, the then-new act combined a bluesy groove with wild guitar and vocal flourishes—which resulted in high-energy live shows as well as a solid debut effort, The Lovings (63-69). That release did not get much traction outside of D.C., but it had plenty of merits: It sounded like a low-fidelity love letter to vinyl’s golden era that dipped occasionally into experimental territory.
Over time, Laughing Man seemed to fade into the background; it stopped playing regular gigs. At the time, its members were busy with other projects. Singer/guitarist Brandon Moses sharpened his drumming chops with psychedelic-pop act Paperhaus and stretched his voice to its limit singing with hardcore supergroup Joy Buttons. Bassist Luke Stewart became a driving force behind the District’s experimental jazz and rock scene, coordinating a full calendar of shows at Union Arts.
Now it seems that Laughing Man’s members took all of that creative practice and poured it back into their original project. “Brilliant Colors,” premiered here today via Bad Friend Records, is the newest single from an audibly renewed Laughing Man. It sounds more expansive than the Laughing Man tracks of old: The intro is a jarring combination of distorted guitar and vocals that rockets forward when Michael Harris’ drums kick in; Moses, normally croony with no shortage of melisma, shouts over his hard-hitting guitar riffs.
But while “Brilliant Colors” sounds more immediate than anything Laughing Man has done before, it’s also deeply personal. The lyrics sprouted from a conversation Moses and Harris had about growing up in a tough-love environment. It’s about “this idea of our moms being hard on us because their view of the world is that the world is very difficult, and they didn’t want to sugarcoat our experience,” Moses says. They “wanted to make it unfair to a certain extent.” The song’s lyrics tangle with the space between the world their mothers envisioned, and the somewhat kinder one the band members eventually found on their own.
The song will appear on Be Black Baby, the EP that Laughing Man spent more than a year recording. The EP includes guitar and string arrangements from talented experimental folk artists Anthony Pirog and Janel Leppin, and live, Laughing Man now has a fourth official member: drummer Tarek Mohamed of The North Country. (Harris recorded drums on “Brilliant Colors,” but he’ll pick up electronics, auxiliary percussion and other duties when the band plays shows.)
Moses doesn’t have a firm release date for the EP yet, but its ideas sound more concrete: It’s about the band’s experiences being black kids who were into rock music, and “loving what is black about rock.”
“All these changes mess with my mind,” Moses shouts on “Brilliant Colors.” This new take on Laughing Man may be a little jarring, too—but it’s a change that’s worth the temporary discombobulation.
Laughing Man, Celestial Shore, and Deleted Scenes play tonight at Rock & Roll Hotel.
Due to a reporting error, the original version of this post inaccurately said Luke Stewart played bass in lowercase letters. He has never been a member of that band.