What a difference a year makes.

When I rolled Popblerd! out on February 8th, if you’d have told me that 2010 would wind up being the best year for popular music in at least half a decade, I might have laughed at you. But here we are, ten days from the end of the year, and I’ve listened to so much good music this year that my year-end best of list is gonna go past twenty for the first time in…well, at least a couple of years.

While I’ll attribute at least part of that to having more open ears than I have the past couple of years, I’m still a little gobsmacked by the artists that brought their “A” game in 2010. From pop-country to “indie rock” to British femme chanteuses to good ol’ hip-hop, every subgenre imaginable had at least a couple of shining moments. So, over the course of the next week or so, join me as I count down the best albums of the year and also take a look at some other great pop culture moments of 2010.

We’ll start with the Top 40 albums of the year. I can’t stress enough how much good music was made in the past 12 months. You’ll find a few great albums actually got left off the list-mostly because I didn’t really get the chance to give the albums a chance to sink in. You’ll find those listed once I’ve revealed the #1 album (which should be no surprise to anyone who’s read my year-end wrapups on Popdose and ESD Music). Let’s get the party started with our favorite Bajan diva.

40. Rihanna-Loud (Def Jam)

Ms. Fenty took a dark-hued left turn on 2009’s Rated R and it resulted in her most continuously compelling album yet. Shrugging the Chris Brown incident off, Ri-Ri opted for a lighter, poppier sound on Loud but retained quite a bit of the edginess that marked her previous album. Although she could probably ease up on the overtly sexual content a little bit, she remains a unique voice in the pop music scene.

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39. Justin Currie-The Great War (Rykodisc)

Currie is one of the greatest songwriters to emerge over the course of the past quarter-century. He spent twenty years fronting the underrated Del Amitri, and he hasn’t yet shaken the “underrated” tag with his solo career. Nevertheless, for those who are listening, the whiskey-voiced Scotsman remains a treasure. Although The Great War doesn’t scale the heights of Currie’s debut solo effort, What is Love For?, it remains an engaging listen.

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38. Scissor Sisters, Night Work (Downtown)

The sophomore slump had it’s way with The Scissor Sisters, as did some unfortunate comments Jake Shears made at a music retailers’ convention which led to their Ta-Dah album being pulled from a major chain’s shelves right after release. As big, bright and gay as ever, Night Work was a triumphant return to form. Songs like “Any Which Way” offered up a modern-day version of disco classics like “Stayin’ Alive”, only with a dirtier twist. Wisely, the band (for the most part) stayed away from ballads and awkward rock-ish attempts and kept their focus squarely on the dance floor this time. I could’ve done without the gross-ass album cover, though.

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37. The XX, The XX (Young Turks)

I actually didn’t realize this album came out in 2009 until I was doing some research on it for this very article. Ah well…I’m not changing my list, and I didn’t hear about this record until I was pointed to it by my friend Sini in the early part of the summer. He sent me one track, and I picked up the album the very next day. You’ll rarely ever find me in agreement with the Pitchfork snobs about anything, but the fact that this British outfit’s debut is an enchanting, moody masterpiece-a little bit Damien Rice, a little bit Portishead-is undeniable. I love sad British people. And they have good taste in covers, too (although the covers are not on the album-at least not the copy I have).

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36. Keane, Night Train (Island)

These guys may have started out as Coldplay lite, but the British trio called Keane has definitely carved their own niche out these past couple of years-widening their sound to include dance-pop and now introducing a hip-hop element, courtesy of two songs on their latest EP that feature Somalian emcee K’naan. What looks like an odd fit on paper turns out to work (as many odd fits on paper do). “Back in Time” is probably this EP (EP?? It’s as long as some albums!)’s best track, but I’ve gotta admit that the sample of the “Rocky” theme on the track “Looking Back” gets me every time.

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