THE BLOG

Why Are Indie Bands Storming the Album Charts?

26/02/2014 17:30 GMT | Updated 28/04/2014 10:59 BST

The hypnotic pull of BBC4's musical output once again drew attention away from the present and back to the past this month through Danny Baker's enjoyable if Quo-esque titled Rockin' Decades, three helpings of which might well have distracted you from a supposed languid current scene.

If so you may have failed to notice that nestling between twitter-revived James Blunt and self-duet king Gary Barlow in last week's UK album charts were two acts whose albums you're unlikely to find sweeping through supermarkets anytime soon: Bombay Bicycle Club - last week's No.1, down to No.8 - and the week's second highest new entry, Temples, in at No.7.

The former an indie band from Crouch End, the latter psychedelic rock from Kettering have been the real success stories in an album market otherwise wracked with industry nerves. As the pendulum swings back once again to the single it's alternative acts that are benefitting from the exodus. So how did indie wrestle back the album charts?

A galvanized fan-base can be powerful tool in a weaker market and, handily, there are no time constraints placed on assembling one of these. Bombay Bicycle Club, now on their fourth album, have been steadily growing their support since their debut in 2009 and with pre-orders hugely significant in determining a final chart placing that's five years of fan power unleashed in one week.

Temples equally impressive No.7 debut has been more meteoric, coming off the back of four singles released over the course of the last year. Noel Gallagher - himself a fan - will remember (possibly) Oasis building their own head of steam through a rapid turnaround of singles before Definitely Maybe went straight to No.1 twenty years ago this August.

Over the years that followed the music industry famously partied like passengers on the Titanic and, in their rush to get overpriced fan-shafting CDs into shops, nurturing and longevity left the building. One single upfront was used as both polite notice and dangled carrot to secure the real cash prize while discarded band's corpses piled up quicker than doomed X-Factor winners would a decade later.

By 2004 the singles chart was on its knees such was the dominance of the album and it was here where a successful wave of indie bands, sensing an opportunity, now plied their trade. Such were the tiny margins, a simple whip round between band members down the pub could mean the difference between a No.28 "hit" and missing the Top 40 altogether.

Digital changed all that and the second (and that was all it took) people could buy what they heard on the radio, saw on the TV or recognized on an advert at the click of a button pop music swept into a period of dominance from which it's never really looked back.

Small but devoted fan-bases were washed away in the face of a digital music tide fuelled by a newly dominant light entertainment schedule. Not simply The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing were never going to use, say, Bloc Party over Take That's Rule The World for their season finale.

But pop has always been about singles and as soon as Saturday night viewers got to grip with iTunes and cherry-picked their favourites, the need for an actual album of assorted gems slowly diminished, could the initiative now be handed back to - that dirtiest of words for so long - indie?

The key moment that suggests it might came last September with the release of Arctic Monkey's AM. Combining both elements of the two bands discussed here - an album released well into the band's career and a selection of singles put out in advance (Are U Mine? being the first and perhaps most pivotal in changing perception), its been an ever-present since and this week surges back to No.2 post-Brits.

It also happens to be the No.1 selling vinyl LP of the last year and here lies perhaps the indie act's final and greatest weapon. With actual physical LP sales on the rise and not one pop act featuring in 2013's vinyl top ten it might be that the future for the album is, as it began: a long playing record resplendent - as AM certainly is - with iconic artwork and lyrics to be pored over. LPs flying out of the shops? Long careers for bands? Indie's unlikely return? It could be a rockin' decade yet.