Good, but not perfect

The members of Port of Notes are good, but they aren’t infallible.

Complain Too Much, the duo’s 1999 first full-length album, was practically flawless, but its 2001 follow-up, Duet with Birds, was hit-and-miss.

The pattern was even reflected in singer Hatakeyama Miyuki’s solo work. Her 2002 album, Diving In Your Mind, was strong and forceful, but a pair of cover albums and second studio album, Wild and Gentle, were mired in sentimentality.

Hatakeyama’s earnest croon deserves as much great material as it can, so the news of a new Port of Notes album in 2004 was welcome. After three years pursing their own projects — Tajima Daisuke recorded under the moniker DSK while Hatakeyama released her solo work — could the pair still produce that same chemistry?

Let’s get the comparrisons out of the way — Evening Glows isn’t as fetching as Complain Too Much, but it holds together far better than Duet With Birds.

At the same time, it isn’t the fastest album to warm up to.

The songs on Evening Glows don’t contain the hooks that immediately grab a listener’s attention. Nor are the songs fitted with much studio flourish.

Given their bossa nova-leanings and gender dynamics, Port of Notes has drawn numerous comparrisons to UK duo Everything But the Girl. Such comparrisons were rendered obsolete when EBTG retooled its sound for techno and drum ‘n’ bass.

The first half of Evening Glows sounds closer to later-era Sade. “Sorezore no Umi” has the kind of sparse arrangement that would have fit well on Lovers Rock. “Dead Angel”, on the other hand, could have been an outtake from Hatakeyama’s Diving In Your Mind.

The album loses a bit of steam on the overly long instrumental “Woodnote” but picks right back up for its midpoint peak. “Sunshine in the Rain”, featuring Matsutoya Yumi, serves as a perfect lead-in to the exuberent “Trace of Dream”.

After that, Evening Glows retracts the momentum, drawing the album inward. It’s not a particularly bad move, but the second half of the album tends to blur into a single, slow-tempo haze.

For four straight songs, the duo limit the instrumentation pretty much to themselves — vocal and guitar, with maybe a trumpet to comment on the action. It wouldn’t seem so out of place if the first half didn’t build up to “Trace of Dream”.

“Pacific Morning Dance” demonstrates Tajima is not quite Ben Watt to Hatakeyama’s Tracy Thorn. He doesn’t posses very strong vocals, but that’s not half as distracting as his accent on his English lyrics.

Evening Glows reveals its charms after a number of listens, and its understated moments serves it well at some points. On others, they get lost among themselves.

Port of Notes aren’t infallible, but when they are good, it shows.