[Friends of Friends / Wedidit; 2013]

Laid Out is Los Angeles producer Shlohmo aka Henry Laufer’s first batch of new songs since last year’s three-track Vacation EP. It’s a much more significant work and sees Laufer moving comfortably into territory that, if you’ve followed any of the producer’s activities over the last twelve or so months, while new in the spectrum of Laufer’s releases, is a sound the Los Angelino has been hinting at in live shows and mixes for some time now. It’s a long way from Bad Vibes‘ rustic DIY trappings, with its trap hats, toothy dystopic synths, and unabashed R&B overtones, but unlike Vacation, its sound is nearly as fully formed as Shlohmo’s masterful sophomore release, even if it slides more neatly into the continuum of underground American dance music. And beyond aesthetic concerns, the five tracks on Laid Out find Laufer’s brazen emotional and melodic sensibilities at full tilt.

The How To Dress Well-featuring, “Don’t Say No,” sets a high bar out of the gate. Everyone’s in top form, the track finding its way around to maybe three climaxes, Tom Krell reaching various fitful states of overwhelming wordless despair while Shlohmo steadily builds a skyscraper for the vocalist to stand on. The collaboration almost proves to be the EP’s undoing, and while nothing else quite reaches the same heights, Laufer instead works outward, exploring more subtle and intricate features along the same darkened, desolately romantic terrain.

The whole EP is as atmospherically sound as anything Shlohmo has done, if not more so, never quite leaving the dank and sweaty interior found on “Out of Hand.” Excluding “Don’t Say No,” which is downright soaring, it has a similarly confined feeling as Holy Other’s recent work, exploring more bodily, intimate, and unconscious realms. Except this is Shlohmo we’re talking about and its emotional scope is fittingly grandiose and external.

The EP sticks close to effected vocal samples and thick, sinewy bass synths and Laufler showcases a deft sense of song structure that weaves from one peak to the next. “Out of Hand”‘s sample echoes inward as a light stratus layer of synths creep in. On “Later” you get a squelching, iron-hot vocal that spits and squirms as the track revs up and down, a tangle of synths hanging loosely from the breathless hi-hats. Shlohmo approaches each track as a whole, letting them simply unfold instead of earnestly pushing them along or littering them with extraneous detail. “Put It” works its way patiently up to a screaming synth hook before it dodges back into the dark, starting the climb over again. “Without” plays an even more restrained game, staying quiet before stomping downward with a crush of oily synths. It settles again before letting a flood of keys swamp the whole track.

Laid Out is an obvious step forward for Shlohmo. The EP grounds the artist after he’d been necessarily adrift after Bad Vibes. He’s a producer whose approach is just as compelling and interesting as his outcomes and he’s constantly evolving and pushing himself to new things. So it’s hard to predict where he’ll be in twelve months, but for the moment Laid Out is more than enough to keep us satisfied.