Muggs gets off on dirty, grimy, sexy beats. He loves its unmistakable whiffs of grit and cool. While he was producing the early trailblazing work of Cypress Hill, Tricky and trip-hop were exploding across the pond, creating an even more swampy mix of dark tones and moods. On his third solo album, Muggs doesn't so much outdo his counterparts as he expands and refines their shared style. Because of this, Dust isn't a groundbreaker, but it's certainly the most cohesive trip-hop album since Tricky's stark Maxinquaye. But whereas Muggs's sometime collaborator has since dived so deeply into a marsh of murky sounds that he seems terminally stuck, Muggs balances aural intimidation with melodic restraint on Dust. Some of these songs even include honest-to-God hooks.

Except for a few medium-profile cameos, the bulk of the vocals is handled by two relative unknowns. Neither Amy Trujillo nor Josh Todd would sound out of place on a Massive Attack record -- her voice is seductive, his plaintive -- and they add to the spell. The singers' anonymity keeps the focus on the songs, a collection of jittery, ill-at-ease compositions that stretch out beyond the straitjacket limitations of most noir soundscapes. Two of Todd's numbers, the soaring "Rain" and the despondent "Faded," are particularly strong. Trip-hop's legacy was undercut by its stubborn insistence on texture over human connection. This was never the case with Muggs, who always had more mainstream tastes -- Cypress Hill hits like "How I Could Just Kill a Man" were fierce and accessible.

Dust has several bleak, despairing moments, yet is not a monotonously downtempo record. Muggs isn't aiming for a crossover -- he doesn't have the chutzpah of a Moby -- but Dust is a minor gem for a disrespected genre.

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Tim Grierson
Contact: Tim Grierson