indie firsts

Arcade Fire roars to No. 1 album in America — by the grace of The Woodlands & Amazon

Arcade Fire roars to No. 1 album in America — by the grace of The Woodlands & Amazon

Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire

Turns out The Woodlands makes for a record-setting muse. Arcade Fire — the indie wonder band front-lined by The Woodlands-reared Win Butler — has reached No. 1 on the Billboard chart with its new album, The Suburbs, which finds its inspiration in Butler's youth on Houston's far-out fringe.

The album begins with Butler advocating stealing a car in an attempt to escape the 'burbs, and in the penultimate song, wife and bandmate Regine Chassange pleads, "Can we ever get away from the sprawl?" Reflects Butler, "In this town where I was born/I now see through a dead man's eyes."

Despite its detractors, The Woodlands has inspired "an album for the ages."

According to Nielsen ScoundScan, the album sold 156,000 copies in its first week, usurping Eminem's Recovery, which had rested for five weeks as No. 1. While the Montreal-based band's mounting commercial success has been attributed to enthusiastic reviews and two sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden (one of which was filmed for a live webcast), online retailer Amazon.com can claim much of the glory for the steep incline in sales — 62 percent of which were digital downloads.

By offering customers the 16-track album for a mere $3.99, Amazon also provided the band's independent record label Merge with its first No. 1 album. Label mates and Texas indie stars Spoon showered praise on Twitter, "Let the record reflect that Merge Records is the NUMBER ONE LABEL IN THE USA!"

Surprisingly, Amazon's decision to boost Arcade Fire comes at a loss for the company. Executives at other labels, speaking on condition of anonymity because deals between the record label and Amazon were private, said the online retailer typically selects an album to promote and sell at a discounted price, while continuing to pay its label wholesale price — usually around seven dollars.

Amazon triumphed Vampire Weekend with a similar technique in January, offering the album, Contra, for $3.99 — also propelling it to No. 1.

In an email to the New York Times, Laura Ballance, a founder of Merge, gave a shout-out to the corner record store — SoundScan data shows that independent stores held their own against big-box stores.

"Is it wrong for me to want to point out that independent retail also did really well with this record?" Ballance wrote. "They made a significant contribution to making this record No. 1. Without them, Eminem would have had it."

Independent retailer Cactus Music is offering "The Suburbs" for $12.98.