Critical Backlash: Arcade Fire vs. Wavves vs. The Charts

Here’s what the Arcade Fire’s chart-topping 156,000 in first-week sales tells us:

I think it’s logical to make a correlation between obscurity of taste and volume of music piracy; in 2003 or so, I would’ve made a link to intelligence/nerdiness as well, but those days are over. Which is not to say that indie kids don’t buy albums, but here’s the thing: record sales, at least on the chart level, tell us about the mainstream. The Arcade Fire, more so than any quote-unquote indie band of the last half-decade, resonate with that mainstream. When Funeral came out, they got what turned out to be the most important Pitchfork review of all time and regular airplay on KROQ. That was unprecedented. They’ve only gone upwards in popularity from there.

By contrast, look at the sales for Wavves. Or Ariel Pink. Or any number of weirdo noiseniks who received the same level of blog buzz and P4k propulsion. The Arcade Fire, whatever one might think of them, write accessible rock anthems; so do most of the indie bands who’ve really crossed over. (Or dance anthems, etc.) The majority of people still interested in paying for music (or who don’t know any better, frankly) want something that speaks simply and broadly on at least one level to them, even if it speaks to the underground in more difficult, innovative ways. (Or even if it doesn’t, as in the case of the just-pretty-good Suburbs.)

My point here is that it all matters: touring (mostly, this), marketing, radio, videos, blog buzz, social networking, Amazon $3.99 sales (also, seriously, this — make every album $4 all the time and I guarantee profits would go up across the board), word of mouth and, of course, the music itself. Us writers would do well to remember the limits of our influence as we gluttonously beg for concert tickets and vinyl promos and claim we can lead a horse to water and make it drink. (Cross-posted from RawkTumblr)