Rather than having a semantic argument about whether 2009 or 2010 was the end of the last decade, Ca Va Cool yet again brings you its top albums of the year. Through our patented, painstaking, super-secret process, we have separated the wheat from the chaff to bring you twenty of this year’s finest albums (and Sufjan Stevens). Albums 20 to 11 come today, with the top ten being revealed on Friday. Without further ado, here is the bottom ten.

Released on Secret City Records

20. Diamond RingsSpecial Affections

The first of several one-man bands in our 2010 list, Diamond Rings is the brainchild of John O’Regan of the D’Urbervilles. In his Diamond Rings persona, Johnny O discards the post-punk mentality of his primary band with a spunkier, glam-rock approach. Special Affections strikes a fine balance of new wave pop with darker moments, distinctly glam but without the corniness that dogged the genre in the ’80s. The catchy hooks are never lost behind the synth, driven by punchy and endearingly DIY GarageBand drum beats. All of this punctuated by O’Regan’s direct and personal lyrics, emoted with his surprisingly throaty voice. In the end, Diamond Rings’ debut sounds like a less punky Pete Shelley, or a less cheesy Gary Numan, and ultimately a more fun John O’Regan. — Sabrina Diemert

Released on Astralwerks

19. Hot ChipOne Life Stand

Accompanied by some of the best music videos of the year, One Life Stand serves as another strong addition to Hot Chip’s catalogue. The band once again walks the balance between dancefloor-ready jams and their slower, more sentimental songs. Exhibiting this dichotomy, title track ‘One Life Stand’ provides a bouncy counterpoint to the more intimate ‘Alley Cats’. The band further explore their electronic side with ‘I Feel Better’, which in addition to providing one of the few acceptable uses of auto-tune, was re-imagined by UK comedian Peter Serafinowicz as being sung by a boy band that was summarily destroyed by some sort of laser-spewing bald man. As strange as that concept sounds, it meshes perfectly with the band’s quirkiness. That quirkiness does lead to some strange moments, notably on ‘Slush’, but it’s good to see a band willing to indulge itself occasionally. Though One Life Stand was less immediate than its predecessors, it proved to be a grower of an album. — Kevin Kania

Released on Saddle Creek Records

18. Land of TalkCloak and Cipher

Creating clever Canadian indie rock in a post-Broken Social Scene era can be a difficult task, and while I’ve largely overlooked Land of Talk until this year, I believe they’ve carved a convincing niche with Cloak and Cipher. The album picks up from 2008’s critically adored Some Are Lakes with even more textured compositions and beguiling choruses. Powell drives the album to grandiose heights with distinctive and booming vocals. The swell of violins and horns on ‘Color Me Badd’ dramatically envelops the room in a spiralling mountain of noise. The record applies a supergroup mentality to indie rock and builds intricate melodies with several layers, and while the album doesn’t reinvent the sound it certainly provides overwhelming reason to turn your volume up. Cloak and Cipher is lyrically dense, drawing inspiration from newspaper headlines, veiled confessions, and passages from books. The record is consistent and artful throughout, from the punk roots of ‘The Hate I Won’t Commit’ to the subdued elegance of ‘Better and Closer’. — Jan Kucic-Riker

Released on Black Box Recordings

17. ShadTSOL

One of the most striking things about TSOL is that despite featuring the best production of Shadrach Kabango’s career, the spotlight never moves from the rapper himself. Whether performing on the Lynn Anderson-sampling ‘Rose Garden’ or the Classified-produced keyboard proclamation of ‘A Good Name’, Shad owns each song and has the listener follow his every thought. Despite complex wordplay, he focuses his rhymes around a personal story or message, like his Rwandan heritage or the tragic absence of women in hip hop, always matched in sentiment by the underlying track. And while much of the album recalls the party anthems of hip hop’s golden age or the soulful conscience of alternative rap acts of the ’90s, Shad will ruthlessly embarrass any contemporary MC in a rap battle, as shown by the hard-biting boast ‘Yaa I Get It’. Growing out of the insecure old prince that once characterized his music, on TSOL Shad seems ready to shine as Canada’s greatest MC. — Daniel Hernandez

Released on XL Recordings

16. Vampire WeekendContra

Contra opens with Ezra Koenig exclaiming “In December, drinking horchata, I feel psychotic in a balaclava!” before the song bursts into a calypso riddim, which appropriately, albeit dramatically, characterizes the sensation of drinking an iced milk beverage in a month typically reserved for cups of cider and coco. Initial reactions to the single from naysayers was of the “exactly what we expected” variety: more pretentious lyrics and forced musical references. Indeed, if you’re looking for fuel to add to fire, you’ll find it from these opening notes of Contra right through to the last lick of acoustic guitar on ballad-closer ‘I Think Ur a Contra’. But an open-minded listen will prove that the band doesn’t necessarily cling to their supposed formula blindly. Using the character introduced on Vampire Weekend as the primary vehicle for carrying the Contra narrative, the precocious hero we got to know on his East coast home turf shows his humble stripes in the face of the giant that is the Californian way of life, as Vampire Weekend’s so-called pretentious lyrical and musical references are buried over the course of their journey. The kind of holiday everyone should be privy to. — Sal Patel

Released on Asthmatic Kitty

15. Sufjan StevensThe Age of Adz

I am one of those Sufjan Stevens admirers who wishes to see his chronicling of the fifty states project to its completion, even if Stevens himself has dubbed it a joke. As such, I have been a little perplexed by his most recent offerings; The BQE and All Delighted People EP seemed like distractions from his most epic of tasks. There is solace for people like me in that Stevens has never abandoned the grandeur of such a project in recent recordings despite switching subject matter. Age of Adz (pronounced “odds”) confirms this. Adz is the closest thing to a breakup album that Stevens is sure to produce, but is never constricted by that topic’s limitations. The album is just as beautifully composed, arranged, and textured as the best of his work, yet sounds nothing like the bulk of his discography. There was some indication of where he was heading on previous releases, but Adz for the most part trades in his acoustic orchestra for an electronic symphony, though he does keep the female chorus. This is Sufjan through and through, but this time around we get to know the man himself much better than the object of his current nostalgeographic obsession. — Justin Everett

Released on Sub Pop Records

14. Beach HouseTeen Dream

The harder I try to define Beach House’s Teen Dream the more my efforts end in vain. Maybe the record plays so effortlessly that it dissuades any venture to qualify its sound. Maybe Victoria Legrand’s voice is a sedative disguised in synths and lackadaisical percussion. Maybe Sub Pop released Teen Dream as an auditory opiate to incapacitate reviewers. Whatever the reason, we’ve long been seduced by its ethereal experiments and dreamy soundscapes. The album has lost none of its charm since its release nearly a year ago. Perhaps the appeal of Teen Dream comes from the subtlety that was largely unfamiliar at such an age. Teen Dream places emphasis on anticipation while subduing gratification – the record forces you to concede to imagination. Using any written medium to describe Teen Dream seems futile, perhaps we could better exhaust our efforts on interpretative dance or inkblot art to express the breathy lyrics and clandestine hymns. Teen Dream is beautiful, elegant, and easily one of the best records of this year.— Jan Kucic-Riker

Released on Rough Trade Records

13. Belle & SebastianBelle & Sebastian Write About Love

Belle & Sebastian’s eighth studio release doesn’t quite reach the heights of their seventh, 2006’s The Life Pursuit, but it builds on that album’s solid eclecticism and encroaching sense of maturity. This isn’t just another collection of wistful trumpets and grade school grudges, though if wistful trumpets and grade school grudges are your thing, don’t worry, they still put in a strong appearance. It’s notable not only for being one of the best releases of the year, but for the band’s incremental acceptance of their role as an éminence grise of indiedom. Grown ups bear a different set of chronic miseries than schoolkids, the subjects of the band’s beloved breakout material, and here in 2010 it’s mainly the associations of middle adulthood that are on display in the band’s musical decisions: office talk in the lyrics, a slicker production than ever, even frontman Stuart Murdoch taking a respectful back seat to a couple of guest artists. If their debut Tigermilk was the memory of being tripped into a muddy football pitch, Write About Love is the desire to duck inside out of the rain for a nice cup of tea; a different kind of Imperial discomfort for a slightly older generation. — Josh Penslar

Released on Captured Tracks

12. Wild NothingGemini

In 2009, when shoegaze nostalghia was almost too buzzworthy to be credible, Jack Tatum’s solo project Wild Nothing cloudburst into indie music circles with an appropriately washed out Kate Bush cover. The recent Virginia Tech graduate’s debut album Gemini claims more unique territory. Gemini is a benchmark in tweegaze: the songs fade between bouncy guitar to sadly strummed wallowing, all framed within a densely textured soundscape. In mere vocabulary, Tatum checks off every thematic element key to dreampop: sleep, dreams, clouds, death, love, drifting, ghosts, boredom. The result of the charming guitar melodies weaved with ethereal electronic accents is intoxicatingly pretty music. While sometimes wavering into saccharinely emo territory lyrically (“Boys don’t cry, they just want to die” on ‘Pessimist’), it mostly comes off as sincere, if not a tad literal, poetry. Although Tatum is resistant to labeling the album as nostalgic, the comparison is difficult to dismiss when fuzz-drenched ’80s synth-punctuated tunes lull listeners to live in dreams in musical sedation. — Sabrina Diemert

Released on Drag City

11. Joanna NewsomHave One on Me

Joanna Newsom’s third (and triple) LP, Have One On Me, cements her role as one of our generation’s most creative, ambitious and breathtaking songwriters. Where some could find Ys challenging, Have One on Me finds Newsom writing more accessible tunes. Though ‘Good Intentions Paving Company’ is seven minutes long, it features some her catchiest hooks, and probably could have been a hit single if it was released 40 years ago. The track also showcases one of the largest arrangements for a Joanna Newsom song, now featuring a full backing band. Although having more than just strings behind her sounds great, you can’t forget the power of just her voice and harp. ‘On a Good Day’ features just that; the melody alone is enough to carry the song, but Joanna’s words paint a scene that captures the album’s beauty in under 2 minutes. — Kyle Sikorski

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— , December 20, 2010    1 Comment

Nice job valuing belle and sebastian, which was totally taken for granted and ignored by the rest of the internet.

I see that PS I Love You and Radio Dept will make the top 10: nice.

— el Guapo, December 25, 2010