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In the glory years of angle-hungry weekly music papers, it would have been a publicist’s dream: a band of young guys playing well-written, melody-rich songs, each of the members hailing from a different country. But in these file-sharing days of pan-global collaborations and instant international connectivity, does having such a diverse makeup still mean enough to impact a band’s sound?
“It definitely does in some respects,” says Shibuya Crossings singer and guitarist Declan Harrington. “But, more than that, I think what helps give us an interesting sound is that we all come from different places musically.” And it’s true: Though they also all share many of the same influences, each of the members brings a different sonic sensibility: Declan, who grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during “the troubles,” is steeped in classic and indie rock; bassist Rob Toshman was raised in the UK on hard-edged punk; and Filipino drummer Ian Escario leans toward contemporary pop. Yet it’s the seamless way in which these varying styles mesh that gives the London-based group its unique but timeless sound. A sound that shines through brightly on DOYA, the band’s second album of addictively edgy, guitar-driven rock ’n’ roll.
Indeed, when spinning DOYA—an acronym for Depend On Your Alter-Ego—it’s no surprise online magazine Room Thirteen says the release “might be the sleeper album of the year…Everything seems simple but unique, clean but unfamiliar, and it’s that sort of combination that makes Shibuya Crossings so appealing.” Very appealing. Just check the set’s first singles, the driving “Take it Out on Me” and “At 8 in a Spanish Bar,” the latter a riff-crunching tale of a comically doomed romantic encounter. Deeper—but no less stunning—cuts include the yearning “The Things We Say, We Don’t Always Mean,” which plays like some mysterious, minor-key Hüsker Dü inversion, and the closing ballad “Wonder Inside,” a moving meditation on regret and “realizing what’s important in life.”
Shibuya Crossings, whose name is a reference to Tokyo’s infamous nightlife district (shibuya translates as “bitter valley”), was formed in 2006 by Declan after the breakup of his previous band, Jude. As Jude was coming to a close, by himself Declan began recording Songs for Lovesick Teenagers, Shibuya Crossings’ debut on the band’s Typically Magic label, with the assistance of producer Richard Knowler. Rob, Ian, and New Zealand guitarist Gareth Evans were recruited for the live lineup just prior to the album’s release, and the singles “Typically, Everybody Thinks You’re Dead” and “Can You Prove Something to Me” drew swift critical acclaim and airplay on BBC Radio 1 and XFM and Ireland’s 2FM. The quartet hit the road, playing extensively across the UK and Ireland.
With Knowler once again overseeing, the group next started writing and recording the tracks for DOYA, the new material strongly reflecting the band’s evolution as a working unit. “To me the first album’s quite a bit darker,” Declan says. “DOYA’s more uplifting— not that we set out consciously to make it that way. But even during the more poppy songs there’s always these hard guitars pushing against the melody. That’s what really gets us off as a band.” One of DOYA’s cuts, the pensive “I’ll Meet You at the Station,” was recently synched for a UK television commercial; the sessions also yielded a cover of Protex’s “Don’t Ring Me Up” for a tribute album to pioneering Irish punk label Good Vibrations. (The compilation also stars Snow Patrol, Ash, Therapy?, and Foy Vance.)
Although Gareth decided to leave the band to return to his homeland upon the completion of DOYA, Shibuya Crossings continues as a trio with no sign of slowing down.
“A lot of bands seem more concerned with following trends than in having any substance,” says Declan. “But there’s no reason you can’t get your message out and still be true to yourself and what you believe in. At the end of the day it’s about good songs.”
And with many great Shibuya Crossings songs already the recorded evidence, it’s a safe bet there are many more on the way—which gives lovers of well-crafted indie rock much to look forward to, indeed.