Talk “breakthroughs” in 2014 and immediately the finger points towards a handful of obvious names: Future Islands for their post-Letterman rise, The War on Drugs for their universal acclaim, Caribou for one of the go-to songs of the summer. 60,000 copies sold in one week represents one almighty milestone for Royal Blood. Jungle’s first year couldn’t have gone much better, save a Mercury Prize win. And cult concerns like Perfect Pussy and Eagulls found themselves breaking through - these are all simple choices when reflecting on the year, considering the artists that broke into the big time.
But falling slightly under the radar is a handful of names who’ve achieved similar feats through alternate means. More often that not, it didn’t require an album release. Tours from last year kept on going, more dates being announced, festivals awaiting the appearance of acts who stole the agenda in 2013.
With more ways than ever to discover new music, keeping track of how online excitement translates into real life buzz is harder than ever.
This applies particularly to CHVRCHES. The sheer scope of their world tour is ridiculous, the Scottish trio checking into North America and Asia time and time again, debut ‘The Bones of What You Believe’ becoming a standard-bearer for gloomy but unashamedly fun synth pop, the likes of which seems to have been replicated in the underground. One blog-approved act after the other seems to be queuing up with a similar sound, but it’s Lauren Mayberry and co.’s unique twist on melodramatic songwriting that continues to win out. Their live show’s enhanced, a dazzling light show coupling up with a firmer punch to the trio’s routine. In effect, they’ve added minor tweaks and improvements to an already winning formula. Once attention turns to a follow-up - they begin work in January - it’s not unfathomable to imagine them penning one of the biggest record’s of the year, gigantic arenas in waiting.
These days it’s harder to measure a band’s success. Chart stats don’t tell the whole story (despite the integration of streaming), and sometimes it’ll be the act themselves who wind up surprised when suddenly, they begin to understand the sheer scope of their success. Speaking to DIY earlier this year, Glass Animals’ Dave Bayley remembers a set at Latitude Festival where, just like that, previously static crowds began to click. “Everyone wanted to dance. We had to change our entire perception, boost the energy levels. Tempos a bit quicker, drums a bit louder.” It was almost impossible to predict.
The Oxford group’s 2014 is best summed up in the fact that ‘Gooey’ - a track from debut LP ‘ZABA’ - stands out as the second most shared song this year on Spotify worldwide. With more ways than ever to discover new music, keeping track of how online excitement translates into real life buzz is harder than ever. In 2014, Glass Animals have taken on the States and Australia, selling out shows pretty much every night. But from a UK point of view, they haven’t strictly been the biggest of breakthroughs - ‘ZABA’ landed in the second half of the top 100, their tours haven’t taken on the biggest of venues, they didn’t get a Mercury nod. It’s building in a very different way, almost invisible to those who focus on affairs back home.
Similarly, Irish songwriter Hozier is pretty much a superstar in the States. He’s topping charts back home, granted, but the success worldwide started this time last year, when his ‘Take Me To Church’ single became one of the most viral music videos on Youtube. This partly stemmed from the topics it was covering - addressing gay marriage in the midst of the Sochi Olympics controversy. America was going crazy, and it was only when a self-titled debut hit the second spot of the Billboard Hot 100 that the level of Hozier’s Stateside recognition could get quantified.
We’ve seen the likes of MØ and BANKS gain huge numbers online without replicating feats via old school methods.
And then it boils down to acts making inroads with a single track, or a head-turning mixtape, or even a guest spot that puts them on the map. Then there’s the question of how to turn this attention into something tangible, like actual record and ticket sales. Broods are one of this year’s best new pop acts. They’ve stormed the charts in their home country, New Zealand. They’ve played hyped-to-the-hills shows in the UK, too. But debut album ‘Evergreen’ seems to have been saved specifically for an early 2015 run, despite being out elsewhere for months. Whether this pays off remains to be seen, but the truth is, talk about who qualifies as an ‘internet artist’ feels old, at this stage. Everyone putting out a track is an ‘internet artist’. Anyone gaining fans online fits into that box. We’ve seen the likes of MØ and BANKS gain huge numbers online without replicating feats via old school methods, but does that make them less of a big deal? Are they stars all the same? 2014 has muddied the waters even further, breakthroughs being easier to achieve but harder to spot.