Catatonia: International Velvet (WEA)

Sleeper and Echobelly may have clocked up the hits in recent years, but those in the know always rated these Cardiff rock sharpshooters a bit higher. This album fulfils the potential they've shown for years; it's bright, brazen and brimming over with substance - especially Cerys on vocals. The humour and vivacious insight in the confessional "Why I Can't Stand One Night Stands" can only be hers. HHH

Ani Difranco: Little Plastic Castle (Cooking Vinyl, below)

In the same way a fresh and magnetic Sheryl Crow crept up on people's consciousness a couple of years back, Ani Difranco is a talent that'll soon prove impossible to ignore. This is her 10th album, unbelievably. Her left-field folky pop is the most witty, self-possessed and provocative to pass these ears in ages, and her truly dynamic look at sexual and social politics leaves Alanis Morissette for dead. HHHH

Various Artists: Soundbombing (Rawkus)

An underground-style New York hip-hop collection mixed together by Evil Dee and Black Moon, this is patchy stuff, with only the odd track by Shabam Sahdecq and RA The Rugged Man lifting it out of the rap-obsessive market. Evil Dee also yelps his presence to an annoying degree, so unless you are a Tim Westwood disciple, it's probably best to steer clear. HH

Ian Brown: Unfinished Monkey Business (Polydor)

The ex-Stone Roses frontman looks for a new musical identity and ends up flailing a bit; dated indie-dance here, a bit of acoustic strummer business and a sprinkle of tired Beatles noises there. He's still a prizefighter when it comes to lyrics, but he needs a bully like John Squire to help him out. HH

Angela Lewis