Earlier this summer, Empress of J-pop Ayumi Hamasaki released her first new single in nearly four years. Ohia no Ki was a sentimental ballad, similar to those that have helped forge her decades-long career. But, I’m much more interested in its follow-up track, the electronic-meets-rock Dreamed A Dream. This song also represents a comeback of sorts, standing as one of two summer singles produced by “retired” talent Tetsuya Komuro. Having left the industry in January 2018, it seemed as though Komuro’s standing as “J-pop’s most successful producer” would be one for the history books, never to be extended.
However, days after releasing a (fantastic) song with girl group Nogizaka46, Komuro teamed with Hamasaki to deliver a sampler of so many of her iconic sounds. Dreamed A Dream tethers her idiosyncratic vocals to a dramatic instrumental that pulses with dynamic shifts in energy. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before in J-pop, but it’s always satisfying to hear artists return to a style where they excel.
Dreamed A Dream’s instrumental is an overstuffed beast, moving from staccato electro riffs to pulsing, symphonic bombast and guitar-shredding interludes. My favorite Komuro-produced work successfully embraces this more-is-more approach and uses it to dole out distinct musical moments. Dream is filled with highlights, from its breakneck chorus to its stomping breakdowns. Hamasaki attacks the track with more verve than expected, her vocals wrapping around the melody with compelling ferocity. The song takes its time (its audio version is nearly a minute longer than the music video), lingering on refrains to offer a hypnotic structure. But with Hamasaki and Komuro at the helm, I’m more than willing to let them indulge themselves.