It's that time of the year again, when we peer into our crystal balls and try to decide on the brightest musical hopes for the year ahead. Yet it's hard to recall any music pundit, big-wig or fan, predicting 12 months ago that a five-piece, Thatcherite babe squad known as The Spice Girls would become Britain's top pop ringmasters, as well as sought-after political commentators. Besides not predicting it, nobody would have believed a word of it.

The new band scene is at present not desperately inspiring, but as ever, a few outfits shimmer with a potential you simply know won't be snuffed out in six months' time. "Aint Going To Goa" by the Alabama 3, drug-rehab lads from Brixton, was one of the most unusual new arrivals of the last six months. It's rare that a band possessing such a freaky edge and heavy attitude also have a pop clarity which will eventually lead them to their rightful place in the charts. It isn't a case of watching out for them; they'll ensure that they're impossible to miss.

Anyone who's seen Suede on their recent tour will have had the chance to sample their support band, Jaok, a seven-piece who take their ambitions very seriously indeed. They drape their songs with strings, while songwriter and vocalist Anthony Reynolds exercises his eccentrically bookish tendencies in his mad lyrics, which often take a provocative hue. The band's most recent singles, including "Wintercomesummer" and "White Jazz", were three- minute bursts of quality pop, so all Joak need to do now is to sharpen up their live act a bit.

This is advice which could also be useful to instrumentalist youngsters Mogwai, from Glasgow. Their songs are full of grand mood swings, veering from the twinklesome and gentle to the thunderously intense, and what's more, they garnered good reviews for their single "Summer". But so far, they are more of a bedroom isolation experience, rather than a worthwhile full- blown live outfit.

My final tip are Broadcast, who hatched out of Birmingham last year. Impressive, burbling samples and keyboards, sighing lyrics and waltz-time tunes are their forte. On their recent EP, The Book Lovers, they've developed and deepened their style so they no longer sound like a cross between Stereolab and Portishead, but a spooksome bunch they remain, none the less. Will they have top 40 hits this year? Maybe not. Will they give you weird, sweet dreams? Definitely...