As a producer and beatmaker, Muggs gets off on dirty-grimy-sexy. He loves its unmistakable whiffs of grit and cool. While he was producing the early trailblazing work of Cypress Hill, trip-hop and Tricky were exploding across the pond, creating an even more swampy mix of dark tones and moods. On his first solo album, Muggs doesn't so much outdo his counterparts as expand and refine a shared style. Because of this, Dust isn't a groundbreaker, but it's certainly the most cohesive trip-hop since Tricky's stark debut. But whereas his sometimes collaborator has dived so deeply into his marsh of raw 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 singing 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 -- but they do 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 noir soundscapes. Two of Todd's numbers are particularly strong, the soaring "Rain" and the despondent "Faded."

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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