We know the energetic, uplifting side of NCT well, but this album shows a duality never before seen. First the subtle, muted 'regular' songs, then the explosive 'irregular' songs. It's so different it might be hard to stomach, but if you take the time it will pay you back tenfold.
Jay Z's 'Empire State of Mind' has travelled to Seoul in City 127. With bright piano chords and sweet voices, you can almost hear the starry sky and fresh breeze in Seoul that they sing about. The song's simple and romantic story about travelling around the city is sung so honestly you can tell the love is real. It's at it's heart a cool song, with the rappers adding the vibe of carefree city youth in their low and rhythmic bars.
With Regular Korean Ver., NCT took the mould, smashed it and plated it in 24 karat gold. This latin-inspired city bop DEFINES style. From their ice-cold rap to sassy singing lines, every second of this track was crafted to boujee perfection. Faint claps on a powerful bass run throughout the song, creating an urgent suspense as if the song could explode at any time. Mark and Taeyong are an unstoppable duo, tying the song together with fast-paced rap. But they're not all: NCT's strongest vocalists pull off swaggy rhythmic lines with the flair of rappers. If you blasted this out of your car windows, people would pull you over to ask what you were listening to. What more can I say?
In the style of f(x)'s 'Four Walls', Replay (PM 01:27) has a dark EDM flavour. The genre lends itself well to the song's meaning; the stark beat of the chorus conveys the song's loneliness more strongly than the words 'I just want to be loved' ever could. The beautiful prechorus sees the singers pair up in mellow voices as the supressed tension rises. Though this is hugely different to their other songs, NCT sing with such understated pathos they seem veterans in the genre.
From its smooth chords to the distant cries that fill it like white noise, Knock On is dreamlike. With soft voices that conjure up the comfortable place between waking and sleep, they speak of someone you stay up all night thinking about. Each member's voice brings a different feeling to the song. Some more emotional and some more muted, each singer gives their own meaning to its ambiguous lyrics. The backing vocals and quiet percussion work together to create the feeling of hearing the distant world go by while you're up at night.
Only the vocalists perform No Longer. It's no surprise - for a song this touching, only their angelic voices would do. As the most old-fashioned ballad on this album, the tender start swelling to a heart-wrenching climax is expected. Though the structure is well known, the honesty with which they show these emotions makes it unique. The story starts like the song: with the gentle unease of a friend who wants more than friendship but doesn't have the courage to get it, swelling up to a majestic final chorus where their confession bursts out of them with a 'I love you, I love you with all my heart'.
After the 'regular' day, the 'irregular' night. Once the 'regular' sun has set, the 'irregular' moon awakens. This genius interlude is the dusk and dawn, the twilight. This album that follows the duality in nature needs a song to show the metamorphosis too. And 'Interlude: Regular to Irregular' is exactly that. It has only four members, each of different nationalities. On a few gentle piano chords that bring ballerinas at the barre to mind, they talk about being trainees in their own language. Then, something changes. A twisted, dischordant echo of those chords made up of strange soundbites takes its place, now filled with an overflowing energy that wasn't there before. By the time the whispered 'Regular' ends the song, it isn't regular at all, but irregular.
The one word to describe My Van is immersive. Like it's on the road, it flows between hard rap verses and dreamlike chorus sequences. The two rappers bounce off each other on a beat that's tuneless but chilling, filled with mysterious creaks and whines like the running of an ancient vehicle. Taeyong and Mark's rap flows so seamlessly from line to line that it seems to travel, just like the van they speak of.
On one level, the song's about a tiring road trip, with 'food all around, chips all around'. At a deeper level, it's about the journeys they make in their group van from schedule to schedule, pushing through hardships. But even deeper than that, at it's core, it's about the non-stop journey we make through life, travelling till we reach our final destination.
"The strange stares we see from people through the window
Sometimes I feel scared of them
They seem like they're piercing through the coating
Who is in it?"
NCT took the theme of 'I miss you' and turned it into a party song in Come Back. Rather than taking the obvious route to the depressing, they created a truly catchy, feel-good track packed with sass. The two rappers took to the theme amazingly in their unique ways, talking about how their partner's always with them in some way rather than simply the pain of them not being around.
You remain as a tattoo mark
I can’t erase you"
Fly Away With Me is a subtly sexy, emotional track. With the solemnity of experienced idols, NCT sing about their love in fantastical words. The groovy yet undertoned beat is perfect. It has a dreamy atmosphere minus the hazy feeling - it's a crisp dream. It's almost sad in parts, but that only adds to the song's magic.
"We were following time, walking together
When our footprints connect to our hands
We’ll become a constellation"
An English version better than the original? That's a rare sight for sure, and Regular English Ver. is one of the best examples. Their dramatic lines with crazy metaphors about water, cheese, funerals and more make this a version I'll never forget. It's packed with funny slang and flashy references in a way I've never heard from a Kpop group. There's so many good lines to quote I may as well quote the whole song.
"I be walkin' with the cheese, that's the queso (Queso, queso)
Diamonds drippin', better bring your raincoat (Splash)"
"Hoppin' out casket-fresh, looking like a fashion show
Diamonds all on my neck, looking like a water show"
Finally, we have Run Back 2 U. This is the 'experimental' track we craved from the artists who performed insane hits like 'Black on Black' and 'Simon Says'. It starts off with a melancholy EDM feel reminiscent of RAIDEN and Yuri's 'Always Find You'. It's exactly the kind of song you'd cry to sleep to at 4AM in the morning. Then, it suddenly changes to a crazy hip-hop inspired beat - Chris Porter's 'The Water Dance', only much scarier. A fantastic part is where two members take turns saying rap lines in unison, their differently pitched voices creating a spine-chilling harmony.
This great album showed a hundred different faces to the famously versatile NCT, ending up with a collection of songs that are each chilling, heart-breaking and special in their own way.
Kpop Review Café's Overall Ranking: 7/10
Written by Krystal