No complaints

Lazy American journalists — such as myself — always need to compare Japanese artists to Western artists.

It’s quick and easy, and readers most likely to be fan of one band just might be interested in another like it.

Still, it’s pretty tired to see constantly that “Band A is Japan’s answer to Band B”. At the risk of being tired, let me just get this off my chest: Port of Notes is Japan’s answer to Everything But the Girl.

Not latter-day Everything But the Girl of Walking Wounded or Temperamental, where club beats and ethereal synthesizers drive the duo’s music.

No, Port of Notes is akin to Amplified Heart/The Language of Life-era EBTG.

Credit that to Hatakeyama Miyuki’s clear, emotive voice. She’s not as technically proficient as Tracey Thorn, but like her UK counterpart, Hatakeyama possesses the ability to imbue each phrase with a subtle, unmistakeable emotional edge.

Although her English diction isn’t as smooth as ex-m-flo Lisa or fellow jazz-pop contemporary Minako, Hatakeyama still manages to make those words her own.

Then there’s “Like I Lay Down” from the duo’s 1999 album Complain Too Much. Kojima Taisuke’s guitar work could have been plucked by Ben Watt, and no one could have told the difference.

On the surface, Complain Too Much is a jazz-pop album in the vein of Sade and Basia. But like late-80s EBTG,

Port of Notes infuses enough alternative rock influences into its music to sound more like Tears For Fears.

The backmasked guitars on “With This Affection” owe more to the Cure than to Django Reinhardt. So does that rock chorus and analog drum machine beat.

Port of Notes does take some time to pay tribute to its less-rock-leaning influences. A tropical beat drives the lyric-less “Unknown Language”. “Ecrice” is straight-forward cabaret tune, and the seven-minute “Complaining Too Much” starts of with a light, bossa nova and ends with a dark salsa.

Hatakeyama’s brilliant voice coupled with Kojima’s expert instrumentation makes Port of Notes one of the most engaging duos around. There’s little to complain about their music.