On the charts: Mumford & Sons are our new rock overlords | Bleader

On the charts: Mumford & Sons are our new rock overlords

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Last week Billboard unveiled a new initiative that incorporates digital downloads and streams into the figures that determine genre-specific charts like "Rap Songs" and "Hot Rock Songs," which were previously tabulated according to radio play alone. This brings these charts in line with the Hot 100, which has counted Internet activity alongside traditional media for a while now, and with the real world, where radio's cultural hegemony has been eroded by iTunes and YouTube.

The rejiggered methodology temporarily played havoc on the affected charts, with Internet-popular songs leaping higher to replace tracks that have been boosted more by traditional PR/radio campaigns. Rihanna and Taylor Swift—who both happen to specialize in the kind of personal-uplift anthems that encourage multiple plays in one sitting—were two of the biggest beneficiaries.

And over at Hot Rock Songs, banjo-wielding British quartet Mumford & Sons are absolutely dominating—at the moment the 12 songs that make up the official release of their second album, last month's Babel (excluding deluxe-edition bonus tracks), take up almost half of the top 25 spots on the chart.

The group's almost complete takeover of the chart is relatively straightforward, at least as far as the numbers are concerned: Babel had the biggest first-week sales of any album this year (630,000 copies) and is handily breaking Spotify records, with more than 8 million streams in that same week. On a deeper level, though, it's much harder to explain. These days the music market is supposed to be split between a few monolithic superstars who are essentially multinational multimedia industries unto themselves (Kanye, Taylor Swift, assorted tween-pop idols) and a million smaller acts catering to a million micro audiences. But here's a self-consciously old-timey quasi-bluegrass band beating Justin Bieber's Believe in first-week sales by a margin of two to one.

For some reason, by any number of metrics, the biggest breakout rock band in the world in 2012 is basically a bunch of guys who look and sound like Logan Square mixologists doing an overly earnest impression of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack at open-mike night. I know that it's always darkest right before the dawn, and that historically every time critics start saying rock 'n' roll is dead a bunch of bands spring up to disprove them—so if you're one of those kind of bands, right now would be a good time to speak up, don't you think?

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.

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