These days it's almost gauche to mention the term “trip hop” in dance music circles. Although acts like Kruder & Dorfmeister, Morcheeba, and Thievery Corporation continue to create mellow, sample-laden soundtracks for the cocktail party set, groove lovers now gravitate toward newer and more adventurous genres like nu skool breaks and two-step garage when searching for the perfect beat.
The fourth Wagon Christ album, Musipal, continues to celebrate the mid-'90s trip hop heyday of labels like Ninja Tune and Mo' Wax. Luke Vibert, the English producer behind the Wagon Christ and Plug aliases, serves up swinging funk tracks, carefully constructed drum 'n' bass grooves, and electro-tinged dance tunes that break little new ground. But he shows enough grit — sampling old hard-core breakbeat divas, reworking acid techno tracks from 1990, and adding fuzzed-out voices and odd creaks — to warrant the tag “uneasy listening.”
Still, it's possible to fault Musipal for being overly friendly: There are few moments on the album that make you stand up and take notice. But Vibert is one of electronic music's populists, and you can't blame him for being inspired by the same sounds as the rest of his generation. His aesthetic — old-fashioned funk and hip hop, jazzed up with cheeky samples and lush melodies — is a warm and fuzzy distillation of such familiar artists as Prince, Human League, and Busta Rhymes. In his favor, when Vibert delivers a track like “Receiver,” a rump-shaking number that uses disco horns in a dramatic-TV-theme way, he doesn't come off as ironic; rather, he appears to embrace those Good Times reruns.
“I feel like I'm kind of in the middle at the moment, between the fucked-up stuff and the club vibe,” Vibert admits in an interview on the fan Web site the Wagon Christ Assembly (brainwashed.com/vibert). But being caught between unabashed experimental territory and the dance floor isn't such a bad place for Wagon Christ to be — especially when many of Vibert's fans are in the same space.