When songwriter and producer Damon Aaron debuted his strange yet alluring Ballast for Plug Research in 2005, he showcased his love of folk, DJ club, and soul dressed in glitchy electronics. It was lo-fi, yet succeeded. Aaron has been on the scene playing guitar, producing, and performing under a variety of guises; he's also worked with hip-hop mystic Divine Styler and Los Angeles' brilliant spiritual club jazz collective Build an Ark. On 2008's Highlands, Aaron and his collaborators -- including the wonderful violist and composer Miguel Atwood-Ferguson from Build an Ark -- weave a romantic tapestry of sophisticated songwriting skill employing lithe, seductive, and heartfelt babymaker soul; sultry laid-back hip-hop beats; and old-fashioned synth effects with fingerpicked guitars, flutes, saxophones, and organic percussion. Check "Matinee" and "Fire" (which would make for a killer 45) that open the set. In each case, slippery beats, naturally heartfelt sultry vocals, achingly beautiful -- and simple -- lyrics, a well-placed flute solo, and delicate and ethereal synths and hand drums are accompanied by Aaron's killer guitar playing that is equal parts Americana roots and Curtis Mayfield. The contrast between the tunes is gorgeous: the former is a midtempo ballad where a man remembers and pleads for the return of his lost love; the latter is a nocturnal, shimmering meld of skittering beats and electronics in service to seduction. Atwood-Ferguson's viola, played arco and plucked against the popping bassline and swirling keyboards, wraps the vocal in a cocoon of warmth and emotion. "Floating," despite its spacy guitars and reverb-laden synths, is on the jazzy soul tip, with a crisp yet mellow hip-hop loop. "Clouds" is like Jeb Loy Nichols fronting an all-star combo from Massive Attack and the Dave Matthews Band popping through a soulful jazzy take on reggae. The Matt DeMerritt saxophone solo is dubbed on top of itself to twin the lines for the extra soul effect, and the electronics are used sparely as textural elements. The deeper folk strains of "Fall," which evoke Grace & Danger-era John Martyn in Aaron's guitar playing, are kissed by glimmering viola, handclaps, and looped strings and ambience. "First Love" is more directly on the hip-hop/soul tip. Aaron's singing is more pronounced in the mix; his phrasing feels like it comes out of D'Angelo -- who got it from Marvin Gaye in the first place -- and the flute and sax breaks by Michael McDaniel are not only tasty production touches, but musically exotic and astute considerations. All of this presupposes the place of Aaron's lyrics. They not only suit his songs, but they stay in the mind of the listener, moving from head to heart. The romantic ache is real as well as poetic. The final vocal cut here, "Where Are You Now," is hard proof of the ache of loneliness of a man whose relentless search for that same lost love from "Matinee" is an obsession and he's desperate to find her; upon hearing it, pull your lover close in gratitude for him/her. Highlands seamlessly melds songwriting panache, technology, heart, and exquisite taste in an irresistible, seductive brew. These skills come into play on what may be both a defining statement for Aaron as well as a blueprint for many others to either emulate or imitate. It is one of the finer moments of 2008 and goes far to create its own space, where electronica kisses folk and soul in a new urban Americana.