a search for a sound to match a new adult chapter

SM Entertainment’s sprawling male collective NCT’s Dream faction was always meant to be youth-centric. The group was, like the school, to have a graduation system that would see its members move on to other units once they reached a certain age. But that initial plan was scrapped, and now the once teen-focused NCT Dream is sailing into adulthood.

It’s been six years since the seven-member group’s debut single “Chewing Gum” and, as noted by rapper Mark Lee at the press conference for their second album ‘Glitch Mode’, they have grown a lot since then. “I think that comes out a lot in our music,” he said of their burgeoning maturity, and the new record certainly feels like it was made by an act entering a new phase.

Aside from a few extra tracks in your face (more on those later), a lot of “Glitch Mode” looks pretty understated. Maybe it’s the realization that comes with getting older that you don’t always have to put on a big screen to grab people’s attention, but opt ​​for a more heartwarming or nostalgic atmosphere over much of the track list has inconsistent results. “Teddy Bear” opens with mumbled rapping and muffled vocals from Mark and Chenle respectively, eliciting the intimate feeling of sharing whispered thoughts with the lights off and the world around you dozing off. As it progresses, it starts to sound more like a lullaby, especially when Renjun and Chenle softly command: “Don’t worry about anything / Close your eyes.”

Dream NCT. Credit: SM Entertainment

Later, “Never Goodbye” adopts a similar nocturnal spirit, but while “Teddy Bear” is the heart of the night soundtrack, its sister song feels like a companion to the time when day turns to dusk and the stars are just beginning to light up the sky. . Shimmering, ethereal melodies are sprinkled over steady percussion as NCT Dream acknowledges that sometimes people drift apart and take different paths in life. “If I can’t find the way to go with you / I’ll always shine on you from afar,” promises Jaemin, a shining example of the song’s gentle, caring heart.

These pieces may shine with a tender sheen, but others fare less well. The acoustic pop of ‘Drive’ is enjoyable but, musically speaking, not particularly memorable, while the smooth, sunny R&B of ‘It’s Yours’ makes little impact until its rapping verses enter the scene. It’s in these moments that the magic of NCT Dream seems to fail, their edges softening too much as they begin a new chapter.

The same can’t be said for “Glitch Mode’s” most energetic moments. The album opens with three typically animated songs that bring into play the experimental and dynamic side of the band. Opener “Fire Alarm” is rowdy and urgent, immediately demanding your attention as the seven-piece chant: “We set fire, without hesitation we burn / So the world is surprised / We pull the fire alarm, go!” Later, Haechan and Jaemin add, “Burn it to the ground / This alarm will / Blow, blow, blow, blow, blow” with such contagious energy, they almost make you want to start your own fire.

Elsewhere, the album’s title track mixes in jarring sound effects (video game beeps and a spinning motor) as it shifts through multiple gears within minutes. There’s a springy beat that sounds irresistibly cool, a polished pop pre-chorus, lively vocals, and, finally, a rock guitar juggernaut at the climax. “It’s a state of emergency” they sing as it unfolds. “It’s bu-buffering / I’m on this glitch mode.” It would be easy for the whole thing to feel messy and like it was about to crumble under the weight of so many ideas, but instead it seems surprisingly, impressively cohesive.

“Arcade” boasts an attitude that often gets lost as you move from the heady days of youth to the responsibility of adulthood – and some great advice to get you started. “Even the words that tease my heart / I chew them, eat them and spit them out like chewing gum” Mark raps confidently at one point, later noting: “No matter what they say, cover your ears / And be yourself.” Its hip-hop feel is matched by the ultra-slick ‘Saturday Drip’; a new anthem for weekends spent strolling around town with your team. “Saturday Drip / Me and My Crowd / I Took It, Peak Peak,” they purr throughout, while Jaemin touts the album’s best moment when he says: “Shout ‘veni vidi vici’ out loud / Like Caesar’s back.”

Glitch Mode as a whole feels like a balancing act – wanting to keep running with the intense emotions and energy of youth, but also stepping into a calmer, more mature zone. Finding one’s place in the adult world is always a difficult experience and the random moments on the record reflect this well. For the most part, however, NCT Dream has some shining moments that hold great promise for the unit’s now extended life path.


nct dream glitch mode review
  • Release date: March 28
  • A record label: sm entertainment

Brandon D. James