Freshman year can be a scary experience. It’s a time of transition–a chance for you to redefine yourself, but also a time that brings upon feelings of anxiety and loneliness. Will I fit in? Am I smart enough? Am I good enough for anyone–am I good enough for myself? Those thoughts alone are enough to swallow anyone up. Luckily for us, the people by our side–our roomies, our dorm mates, and our friends–are there to bring us back, dust us off, and give us the confidence to keep on living another day. On his EP Overboard, singer Daniel Shibuya tackles the subject of depression with his friends, transforming his personal fears and anxieties into catchy, sunny tunes.
A “19 Year Old Japanese Boy from Irvine, Ca” (at least, that’s what he tells us on Spotify) Shibuya’s still a bit of a newcomer to the music game. Like other teenagers of the digital era, he has his own SoundCloud account where he uploads a number of rough demos of original material on the regular. He throws up 90s-inspired retro photos on Instagram. He chills with his friends. From the outside, it seems like he’s where most teenagers want to be at at that age: carefree, happy, and ready to conquer the world.
However, there’s more to him than those #blessed, sun-kissed IG photos. His first release, last year’s EP Happy Sad Boy, gave us a closer look into his life and told a story that contradicted the happy-go-lucky persona that he had carefully created online. But even when he was singing about goodbyes and his mild (hinted at) depression, the project felt a bit contrived. Between sad thoughts, Shibuya added in random audio from himself and his group of friends–emphasising overbearing inside jokes like “This water tastes like fish!” and “Oh yeah, Mr. Krabs!”, downplaying the sadness he feels on the rest of his songs. That’s not to mention the cover photo, which has Shibuya grinning from ear-to-ear, insinuating that being sad here was an aesthetic rather than something serious (artists like billie eilish have made sadness en vogue). As a result, it was hard to treat Shibuya as nothing more than a musical jokester.
Although Happy Sad Boy didn’t end up getting many streams on SoundCloud, it showed promise for the young artist. For his next venture, Shibuya made the decision to throw his newer material on Spotify, starting with the first single “Summer Boredom”, an upbeat, crisper recording than anything off of his first EP. People finally took notice of his work, throwing it on their playlists and streaming it more than 100k+ times, but maybe for the wrong reasons. It’s kind of funny looking at the kind of playlists that “Summer Boredom” gets put into–the most popular one being “vibe with it”, a playlist filled with upbeat jams to rock out to. But although “Summer Boredom” undeniably sounds like a jangly, summertime jam, its message is different than what it might seem. At moments Shibuya sings about how “summer depression gets me every time” and that he’d “rather be asleep inside / alone” rather than enjoy the outdoors. Just like he did on Happy Sad Boy, Shibuya, who has mastered the art of suppressing sadness under a cheerful disposition (see IG), has fooled the world once again.
The rest of Overboard is similarly rugged and imperfect, but straight from the heart. And this time around, it works much better since he takes himself more seriously as an artist–addressing his emotions head-on rather than playing it off as one big joke. In a confessional part of “Overboard”, he even claims “And if I’m being honest / I think I’ve been depressed for the last two years of my life / Only reason that I’m living right now is cause I got all my friends”. Later on, he even reveals that those blissful Instagram photos are just extensions of that joyful veneer–admitting that he’s “gotta keep [his] head clean for the IG” despite his feelings. On the second part of “Nice Guys / Drowning”, he pleads for someone to “Save me from my mess / I’ve fallen in distress” and that “It’s not easy running uphill” over a trance-like, synth beat. Though we might not know what it is he’s sad about or why, at the very least it’s proof enough that what he’s feeling is real (and not an aesthetic).
But while Overboard mostly tells the story of one young adult’s inward struggle with depression, it’s not a depressing EP. Shibuya invites his friends to contribute on the project, lifting him out of those darkest moments. He’s never alone. Case in point: nearly every song on the record features from one of his friends, and in “Bipolar” there’s even a mini-montage of sound clips that he took from their many hangout sessions. Despite its raw production, “Bipolar” is one of the more touching moments on the project–an ode to friendship and a time capsule of sorts. (If that weren’t enough, check out the home-video-like music video for the video)
And as for that playfulness that he had on the first EP? Shibuya brings that energy back tenfold and redirects it into his single “Phone Calls”, a tastefully satirical song about love that could very well be a mini SNL skit. Featuring a clueless protagonist (Shibuya himself) and his annoyed crush (Chloe Maniss), “Phone Calls” is a musical back-and-forth conversation between characters, proving that Shibuya can write adorable love songs just as well as introspective ones. There’s hints of AJ Rafael-like cheesiness and cuteness there and elsewhere on the record (“I’ve been thinking lately / I could buy you a rose / I got a dollar I can spend / Baby it’s all yours” on “Nice Guys / Drowning”), providing some levity to the EP.
On a pseudo press release found in the description of a SoundCloud song before the EP dropped, Shibuya confessed, “I’m not sure what direction I’m trying to go in for right now, but appreciate the people around you and don’t take them for granted.” Though he might not know where he’s going, Overboard shows that he definitely has the creative chops to find his way there eventually–and he’s got his friends by him to cheer him on.