NCT 127 wasted no time returning to K-Pop consciousness this year with the release of their second mini-album, Limitless. The EP, beyond its six new songs, features two new members: DoYoung (previously seen in NCT U) and the debut of long-time SME trainee, Johnny.
In many ways, Limitless is tasked with fulfilling two key responsibilities for NCT 127. One is to sew a common thread between this album and the group’s debut effort and the other is to incorporate two new voices to the mix. Two challenges, both of which are accomplished in varying degrees on Limitless.
Where NCT 127’s first EP focused largely on a flying carpet of EDM, this one finds the group’s sound rooted in a bit more of an R&B style with flares of electronic elements to keep it fresh and congruent to the NCT brand.
The bulk of this EP is relatively tame, especially when contrasted with the album’s title track (“Limitless”). For instance, “Back 2 You (AM 01: 27)”, a suave, R&B mid-tempo, features some of NCT 127’s smoothest vocal performances. Main vocalist Taeil is joined by DoYoung who make a solid duo whose far-reaching belts are a better balance now than when Taeil was running this show solo. In fact, more members have stepped up their contributions to the vocal line this time, like Yuta and Haechan, who toss in sweet falsettos and unique timbres to the mix.
Elsewhere, Mark continues to hold his own as the group’s strongest rapper. In the chill dancehall, R&B jam, “Baby Don’t Like It,” Mark spits straight fire without ever over-performing. On the other hand, NCT 127’s leader Taeyong tackles his verse in this song with a rough-around-the-edges approach. His style isn’t as smooth as Mark’s, but Taeyong is by far one of, if not the most versatile member in NCT 127, which explains why SME continues to push him to the forefront of NCT.
Taeyong utilizes every opportunity on this EP to flex the extent of his voice, even if the end result isn’t particularly inspired. It is his commitment to the music that’s commendable. Look no further than the title track, “Limitless,” where Taeyong induces chills one minute with a guttural vocal technique he copped from The Grudge and then surprises with a solid line of singing later in the second verse. Taeyong is the voice of NCT 127, which bodes well for him but it does raise questions as to why SME decided to rope in two additional members into a group with an uneven line distribution.
Jaehyun, though relegated to mostly harmonizing on this EP, still finds a moment to shine in the brassy up-tempo “Good Thing.” The song is the most energetic b-side on Limitless and also a perfect example of the line-up to expect throughout the EP. WinWin and Johnny are mere afterthoughts in audio form, not just in this song, but throughout the album; both members are completely omitted in the album ender “Angel.”
While Limitless further refines NCT 127’s grungy R&B style, there seems to be a lack of growth within the group itself. An argument can be made for DoYoung’s addition to the group, who brings in a set of pipes to a line-up that vocally under-performs, but Johnny’s presence is still a bit confusing. He doesn’t offer much to gauge on this EP. Even members that do get a moment or two to themselves, like Yuta and Haechan, get lost behind the lead voices in the group. For an SME project, it’s interesting that so few members have barely managed to sparkle at all in the group’s second outing.
Genre: Dance, R&B/Soul, Rap/Hip-Hop | Release Date: 1/6/17