Christmas is here for indie-rock fans — exactly one month late. After a weeks-long pre-and postholiday release drought, Jan. 25 is host to a veritable deluge of albums by big-name indie artists: Bright Eyes, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead*, Mercury Rev (import and an iTunes-only EP), Low — to name a few.
The glut, it turns out, is no coincidence. Jim Kaminski, product specialist at a downtown Manhattan Tower Records, explains: ”First of all, these artists aren’t new, but they’re what the industry calls developing artists, and it’s very bad to put a developing-artist record out in the last quarter of the year because they tend to get buried by all the U2s and Gwen Stefanis. Second, their customer base is mostly college students who’ll have extra cash in their pockets after the holiday.” Sub Pop national sales director Andy Kotowitz agrees. ”Record stores are trying to restock their hot items from the weeks before, people are all wrapped up in end-of-the-year stuff…it’s just an odd time to put out a record.”
Then, of course, there are the traditional postholiday returns. The most famous example occurred in January of 1992, when droves of young, unsatisfied music fans traded in their gift copies of albums like Michael Jackson’s Dangerous for Nirvana’s Nevermind, sending the latter record to No. 1 and symbolically ushering in a new, less pop-oriented era.
While it’s unlikely that Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst or Trail of Dead will loosen the death grip that artists such as Eminem have on the Billboard charts, the temporary lull in mainstream releases can only help their cause. And though they’ll be fighting one another for indie-music lovers’ often-limited dollars, ”it’s still better,” Kaminski laughs, ”than competing against the Rod Stewart American Songbook.”
* Okay, technically they’re on a major label, but come on, they’re still indie.