Rihanna, ‘Loud’

After the notorious Rihanna-Chris Brown abuse case stormed tabloid columns and blogs, both critics and Rihanna’s followers alike accurately predicted the gothic, distorted R&B of her previous album, Rated R. Still, once news about Rihanna’s return to the studio to create Rated R’s follow-up surfaced, everyone asked the same question: Where would pop’s leading lady take her musical stylings now?
Upon listening to Rihanna’s fifth studio album, Loud, the answer becomes immediately obvious. Producers and songwriters keep the music scene’s most current diva even more relevant by making her latest attempt a compilation of her past albums’ styles. Despite the irony in this formula, it works. On the popular singles, “S&M” and “Only Girl (In The World), Rihanna heralds the return to the top-seller Good Girl Gone Bad’s dance-pop leanings. Meanwhile, songs like the Avril Lavigne sampling, weekend warrior anthem “Cheers (Drink To That) and the murder confessional “Man Down” feature flashbacks to the island girl’s Caribbean homages on Music Of The Sun. As the disc’s highlight, “Man Down” is a sonic smoothie of the Bob Marley style vocals and rhythms that blazed across her debut, and the shady story lines that marked 2009’s Rated R as the year’s eeriest musical thriller.
Still, a fashionista knows that one cannot go retro without solid grounding in the present. Keeping this in mind, Loud threads a sense of maturity and freshness throughout, making it a stylish competitor for Hit Album of the Year.

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Matt Duke, ‘One Day Die’

As the followup to 2008’s folksy Kingdom Underground, Matt Duke’s One Day Die shows the promising musician’s ventures into harder, more experimental rock. In songs like “Kangaroo Court”, a speedy rocker with distorted vocals akin to Lindsey Buckingham’s solo work, and the Eagles-esque “Shangri-La”, Duke’s writing promises more texture while still showcasing his talent for irresistible hooks. Duke’s religious undertones are still in full force on the single “Needle & Thread”, and the eerie, small-town commentary “M.L.T.” As a comfortable blend of familiar and radical, One Day Die solidifies Matt Duke as contender for King of The Underground.