Commercials don't necessarily mesh with indie rock's free-spirited autonomy, but just try to argue with their power to propel unknown acts into the mainstream consciousness. It happened for the Dandy Warhols when ''Bohemian Like You" landed in a European cellphone ad campaign. And now, the sinuous organ scratch and cantering beat of ''Jerk It Out" by the Caesars has become a television staple as the theme song for the iPod Shuffle. The high-profile placement could be just what the Swedish quartet needs to expand the small following they've already attracted here into the kind of star status they enjoy at home. The instantly recognizable song appears, but slightly remixed, on ''Paper Tigers," which is their third US release. It's a smart, beguiling blast of pop-rock that finds the band digging deeper than on previous discs. Album opener ''Spirit" is a mournful rock ballad with elegiac organ, while ''May the Rain" is a mid-tempo lovelorn lament. Buoyant garage rock resurfaces on ''It's Not the Fall That Counts," propelled by a catchy chorus and bold Farfisa organ, and ''We Got to Leave," which recalls the Dandy Warhols with its psychedelic organ, bright hand claps, and luminous harmonies. Now that they've snagged our attention, the Caesars deliver a mature but lively blast of classic rock-influenced music with real substance at its core.
BLACK SHEEP BOY
Less stagy than the Decemberists and less self-absorbed than Bright Eyes, Okkervil River proves that literary music doesn't have to be pretentious. Frontman Will Sheff's previous songs were like short stories, while this masterful new record is more like a novel that chronicles the evils people do. Using instruments like trumpet, cello, a vintage Casio keyboard, and lap steel, the album sweeps between silence and howls. In the chilly ''For Real," the bad guy purrs his desire ''for real blood, for real cuts, for real cries." The next song portrays a sheep as a poor, lonely lamb sipping from a deceptively bucolic stream. Sheff then switches voice to become a man who longs for a would-be lover that the black sheep reached first. He rages on behalf of an abused woman in ''Black," begging, ''It'll never be the way it was before, but I wish that you would let me through that door." In the painfully pretty ''A Stone," a bouquet-bearing suitor pines for a sleeping beauty who wastes her life dreaming of a ''knave who once gave just one rose." The album culminates with 10 minutes of gorgeous, creepy catharsis: The predator promises to wait and then welcomes a bloodied creature into his arms. And that killer, Sheff warns, lies inside every one of us. ''Black Sheep Boy" is as dangerously seductive as a snake under your pillow, but it is brilliant work. Okkervil River is at T.T. the Bear's Place May 9.
Jo Dee Messina
Jo Dee Messina has been Boston's most successful singer in Nashville. The Holliston native has tallied six Top Ten country singles and even a ''Greatest Hits" album. Messina's offstage life, however, unraveled a couple of years ago and she was treated for alcohol abuse. She came back to play Toby Keith's festival at Gillette Stadium last summer -- and now comes this remarkable CD, which exposes her feelings in raw fashion (''Where Were You" targets friends who didn't help her ''when the walls started caving in") and is close to being a survivor's concept album. Messina was always a powerful singer, but she is even stronger here. She opens with the scene-setting ''Not Going Down," where she belts, ''I still get dizzy and frantic, lonely and panicked, but this time I'm not going to let it beat me." She offers a crusty side in the country-rocking ''My Give a Damn's Busted," but her rebirth really comes alive on two self-penned numbers, ''It Gets Better" and ''Life Is Good," a wake-up-and-smell-the-roses anthem. ''We spend so much time climbing up the ladder that we're missing all the things that really matter," she sings. The album brims with possible hit singles, but the most impressive part is how personally vested Messina is in this material. These are not novelty songs. They come from her gut.
LOW ROAD and HIGH ROAD
Absolutely Kosher Records
Some albums, it would seem, are made solely to attract a cult audience. Nick Drake and Judee Sill probably never realized the underground cachet their music would carry posthumously. This may or may not be the intention of Marty Anderson, but either way, the still-living songwriter has just released two cryptic albums that likely will be most appreciated in hindsight. Under the band name Okay, Anderson's debut albums, ''Low Road" and ''High Road," are strange brews, a collection of quixotic rock missives that are by turns whimsical (kazoo solo, anyone?) and moving. It seems their only correlation is Anderson's fatalism. ''There's no reason to hold on/ To something that's already gone,'' he sings on ''Fight," from ''High Road." There's no real connection between the albums, other than that Anderson simply wrote and recorded a surplus of songs. Still, ''Low Road" is the more accessible of the two. Some of these songs could be latter-day Captain Beefheart, except they're more approachable. Anderson, singing in an old man's croak, is prone to constructing his lyrics on a 12-bar blues progression: sing a rhyming couplet, repeat it, then move on. What's different, though, is that Anderson sets his lyrics to an accompaniment that gradually swells until it seems the song has come unhinged. It's the power of repetition, where platitudes such as ''There's no way out for you and me" can become a bleak mantra.
WAITING FOR THE SIRENS' CALL
For some reason, the name New Order is hardly brought up when talking about the great bands of the '80s and early '90s. If it is, it's done grudgingly. But from the days of their early, more corrosive sound to their fabulous dance-rock heyday where they set the blueprint for so many of today's acts, New Order was an essential group. After a few comeback discs that paled by comparison with their best work, they return with a glorious set of songs that evokes the classic New Order brand without making them seem like aging rockers trying to recapture past glory. All the essential ingredients are in place, from the clash of electronic and organic elements to Bernard Sumner's plaintive vocals to Peter Hook's grandly ringing bass to a deft sense of irony and kitsch. Most striking is the sheer dance-floor throwback, ''Guilt Is a Useless Emotion" -- a rush of candy-coated fluff that a band like the Bravery would simply kill for. Wait until this gets remixed and burns down the clubs. ''Jetstream" flies by appropriately in a whoosh of sonics augmented by Scissor Sister Ana Matronic (call it paying respects to an obvious influence) while ''Working Overtime" is a stripped-down, guitar-driven gem that recalls the band's very early years. The 12-song set is produced by the band with five different producers including Stephen Street, but it clearly is made with one cohesive vision. Fans of New Order should rejoice -- and anyone who is going gaga over the flock of buzz bands making waves these days will find a fresh reminder of just who did it first.