Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Indies" Crash the Chart

As many of you may have heard or read, "indie rock" had a big week on the Billboard Top 200 chart this week. Coming in at #16 was Eau Claire's number one beard-rocker Justin Vernon, better known as Bon Iver with his new "Blood Bank" EP. At #13, the Baltimore artiste colony known as Animal Collective with their extraordinary "Merriweather Post Pavilion" CD. And at #12, the beloved Andrew Bird with his wonderful "Noble Beast" (and by the way, "Noble Beast" was #3(!) in the Twin Cities).

Could it be that intelligent, interesting and engaging music is finally working its way into mainstream America? Well, yes and no. The Billboard chart is largely driven by sales at traditional record retail, which has become a fairly skewed measurement of how music is actually consumed. A look at the real numbers behind these chart positions is revealing: each of these three records sold between 23 and 25 thousand units. While that's impressive for "indie" releases, just a few years back those numbers would maybe have placed these titles in the top 100 of the chart, certainly not the top 20. So perhaps these three records scoring so well says more about the difficult state of music marketing and retail than it does about major trends in popular culture.

Nevertheless, it is indeed an accomplishment for all three artists to have scored so well, and it's a very encouraging indicator that more people are more open, and are actually being exposed to, a wider range of popular music these days.

Animal Collective is scheduled to play at First Avenue on May 20, and tickets are going fast. We're still hopeful that Bon Iver will follow through on his expressed desire to have his next Twin Cities appearance be a multi-night run at The Cedar (stay tuned!). And of course, Andrew Bird will be back in town on April 11 at the State Theatre (maybe someday we'll be treated to another Cedar appearance, but until then we'll just have to hold his 12/16/2007 show precious in our collective memories!).

In the meantime, I put the news of this kind of music's success in the same category of "good news for the world" as the inauguration of our new president. After all, right there on national television last week was Andrew with a virtual all-star band of Twin Cities musical luminaries, all of which regularly grace The Cedar's stage. Here's the clip of Bird (with Dosh, Jeremy Ylvisaker, and Mike Lewis) and on Letterman:

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