Mark Hollis: Mark Hollis (Polydor, below).

The first album by the former songwriter and vocalist of Talk Talk - after a seven-year lay-off - isn't quite what you'd expect. The full-blooded arrangements of oldies including "Life's What You Make It" have given way to skeletal melodies, so Hollis's emotional deliberations are very naked. Sometimes gospel power is with him, but mostly he appears very unsure of himself. HH

Freakwater: Springtime (Thrill Jockey)

Kentucky's Freakwater are steeped in traditional twanging folk and country, sort of rootsy and raw and without Nashville cosmetic surgery. But listen in to those gorgeous chiming vocals, and the lyrics sketch in poignant tales which avoid platitudes - from religion, to love, to even Muhammad Ali. With their sharp honesty, Freakwater refresh the parts Garth Brooks can't reach. HHHH

The High Llamas: Cold & Bouncy (Alpaca)

The Sean O'Hagan-led High Llamas don't do things by half. Cold & Bouncy is replete with sumptuous strings, dreamy moodscapes and exotic rhythms. Trouble is, in the same way adolescent boys put together fantasy football teams, O'Hagan has designed a fantasy soundtrack. The most hypnotic elements of the Beatles, Beach Boys and easy listening are here, but this is a clinical, detached affair. HH

Cold: Cold (A&M)

The vocals are a gust and roar rolled into one, like a grizzly bear doing an impersonation of Eddie Vedder. Florida's Cold are the latest grunge/metal noiseniks from America, and the whiff of MTV manufacture is overpowering. Their malcontent rock seems more fuelled by egos than a genuine angst overload. HH