The Decemberists' sixth album The King is Dead (which you can stream on rollingstone.com) debuted at the top of Billboard's album chart this week, scoring not only the band's first Number One album but also the best first-week sales performance of their career. Their previous high water mark for sales was the opening week for their previous album The Hazards of Love, which peaked at Number 14 with approximately 19,000 units sold. The King is Dead performed significantly better, selling 93,567 copies last week.
Much of the album's retail success was online, with digital sales accounting for 65 percent of all units sold. The breakdown of the digital sales figures by retail outlet (iTunes, Amazon, etc.) is unknown, though it's worth noting that The King is Dead was sold at a deep discount — $3.99 — in Amazon's MP3 store.
Nevertheless, much of the band's success can be attributed to building their audience the old-fashioned way: consistently strong albums and extensive touring. The group have also enjoyed substantial press coverage, garnered rave reviews and made high-profile late-night television appearances on Conan and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
An even easier explanation for The King is Dead's robust sales is that it is simply much more accessible than the band's two previous albums. Whereas The Hazards of Love and their 2006 major label debut The Crane Wife were highly ambitious, proggy song cycles, the new record is a concise set of relatively straightforward folk pop tunes.