The end for Ash's albums as new songs to be only released online

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The Independent Culture

The Northern Ireland band Ash, who rose to prominence on the back of the mid-'90s Britpop explosion, are to release all their new music on the internet.

The band, who have scored dozens of hits and awards in a career spanning 15 years, said yesterday that their sixth album Twilight Of The Innocents would be their last conventional release.

Frontman Tim Wheeler said that Ash, who appeared at last weekend's Isle of Wight Festival, would be "dedicating ourselves wholly to the art of the single for the digital age".

By abandoning traditional recording and publishing methods, Wheeler said fans would be able to download new music as soon as it was recorded.

He said it would create a new era of "spontaneity and creativity" and put an end to the increasingly long wait forced on the record-buying public between major album projects.

"We have our own studio in New York, we can record a track and release it the next day if we feel like it, give it to people while it's fresh. We're the first band to do this but I doubt very much we'll be the last," he said.

Physical record sales are in freefall with the music industry gripped with doom-laden forecasts over the future. Last year sales of CDs in the United States plunged 20 per cent with albums down by a tenth.

The industry has been criticised for its failure to respond quickly enough to the threats and opportunities posed by downloads, first attempting to crush illegal file-sharing sites before belatedly attempting to carve out a slice of the digital market for itself.

In the first three months of this year in the US, the world's largest music market, there were 288 million legal downloads - up 46 million from the same time last year. Around the world digital music sales have nearly doubled to a value of £1bn in the past 12 months. The success of artists such as the Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen and Sandi Thom who built large audiences on the internet before shifting industrial quantities of physical products, offered some hope.

But the rise in digital has failed to make up for the collapse in the CD market with consumers preferring to download individual tracks rather than whole albums.

The UK chart this year changed its rules to allow digital tracks not linked to a physical release to make it into the top 40. The move was hailed as a boost for consumer choice and has seen a steady stream of surprise hits from bands' back catalogues or tracks linked to advertising campaigns.

Ash were formed in 1992 but it was not until 1995 that they hit the charts with the breakthrough single "Girl From Mars". The following year their album 1977 topped the charts, the first of five top-10 albums including the 2001 release Free All Angels. As well as picking up an Ivor Novello award and amassing 17 top-40 hits, Ash were in the vanguard of the digital revolution being one of the first acts to build its own online message board and notching up the first number-one single in the download charts.