Often enough, the best electronic music lies just below a single track of vocals. Often as not, those vocals get the music filed in record stores under “hip-hop” or “r&b.” Case in point, the collected rap of the group Cypress Hill, who under the guidance of producer DJ Muggs coughed up album upon album of dense atmospherics. Cypress Hill’s sound was thicker than the marijuana smoke the group rapped about incessantly. Where Public Enemy’s producers, the Bomb Squad, achieved density with head-on sonic collisions, Muggs favored overlapping veils.
Muggs has a full-length solo album, Dust, due out March 21, 2003, and it’s not what Cypress fans might be expecting — all in all, it’s a rock-pop album, 14 tracks of moody, downbeat emoting, including singing by Joshua Todd (of the defunct metal band Buckcherry, which rocked harder than it got credit for), Amy Trujillo, Everlast and Greg Dulli. Much of this will appeal to fans of Tricky’s brand of trip-hop, but for electronic aficionados there are also four experimental vocal-free tracks on Dust. (By the way, Tricky and Muggs both record for Anti- Records, which is also home to Tom Waits and to Nick Cave, whose band includes Blixa Bargeld, of Einsturzende Neubauten — now, isn’t that a label whose Christmas-party jam you’d like to witness?)
Collected as an EP, the four vocal-free tracks from Dust would have made a nice little electronica set. Instead, they serve as interludes, each at less than two minutes in length:
Track three (“Niente”) finds common ground between the Beatles’ psychedelic studio antics (a la Revolver‘s “I’m Only Sleeping”) and the melodrama of Angelo Badalementi’s soundtracks (Twin Peaks).
Track six (“Shadows”) is water torture with a heart-pounding back beat and an underlay of intimate but undecipherable ham-radio jabbering. It closes with a bell ringing and a door opening: a self-deprecating maneuver that turns the track, de facto, into elevator music.
Track eight (“Cloudy Days”) starts with sci-fi noises and segues quickly into a “Dust in the Wind”-style guitar exercise. Of the four vocal-less tracks on Dust, this is the only one that is remotely unsatisfying, and then only because the guitar melody demands a vocal that never arrives. When the song modulates down a notch midway through, it sounds like it could be a Guns N’ Roses cover, but instead it’s a nice bit of electro-acoustic noodling that might appeal to fans of Fennesz or Greg Davis.
Track 12 (“Blip”) opens with the sound of a computer keyboard being pecked at. Muggs quickly matches that casual rhythm with Aphex Twin-style computerized percussion, which he proceeds to tweak until the sounds are about to disintegrate.