A bit lost in the shuffle of our collective CMJ hangover last week was the (slightly anticlimactic) ending to the Sufjan Stevens/Asthmatic Kitty versus Amazon saga. Sufjan’s sixth proper album, The Age of Adz, debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200, far and away the highest debut a Sufjan album has ever seen. Moreover, the conversation can actually shift from an indie label versus an Internet titan to the album itself, and that turns out to be a very good thing.
It’s become increasingly difficult in recent years to know what to make of such charting numbers, especially when you take into account the discounted Amazon sales of an album like Sufjan, and the well-documented drop-off in sales the following week, when it returns to a normal Amazon price. Still, though, it can’t help but feel like a minor victory of the human spirit that Sufjan, a man whose last full-length was a wordless album dedicated to a dirty highway, charted in the top 10 and above Linkin Park and Bruno Mars (seriously, the dude wrote “Fuck You”).
At the end of the day, a No. 7 debut may seem anticlimactic to some who followed the back and forth. It’s certainly no Arcade Fire surprise No. 1 scenario. But in a sense that numbers game misses the point. This isn’t the Arcade Fire here. We don’t mean to play up Steven’s endearing oddness, so much as we mean to point out that this is a brilliantly gifted but somewhat niche musician making what is widely viewed as his most experimental album. Such a debut on those terms can’t help but feel like a win for both camps. Short of a smidge of bad PR (which I can’t imagine will make much of a dent in the sale giant), Amazon comes away from the whole thing having done pretty well for a week and having yet again proved that they have the power to directly help place hand-selected indie efforts in the Billboard Top 20. Asthmatic Kitty gets to show a strong solidarity with their artists and, even if they aren’t a “numbers” label, gets to feel pretty damn good about a rare huge sales week (relatively).