NCT 127 Explores New Sounds and Voices with 'Limitless'

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NCT 127 is wasting no time, as the group returns to KPop consciousness this month with their second mini-album, Limitless. The EP features six new songs and two new members: DoYoung (previously seen in NCT U) and the debut of long-time SM Entertainment trainee, Johnny.

In many ways, Limitless is tasked with 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 taken in contrast to the album's title track (Limitless). For instance, Back 2 You (AM 01: 27) is a suave, R&B mid-tempo that features some of NCT 127's smoothest vocal performances. Main vocalist Taeil is joined by DoYoung to make a solid vocal duo whose far-reaching belts are a better balance now than when Taeil was running things solo. In fact, more members step up their contributions to the vocal line this time, like Yuta and Haechan, who toss in sweet falsettos and unique timbres.

Elsewhere, Mark holds his own as the group's strongest rapper in the chill dancehall, R&B jam Baby Don't Like It, spitting straight fire without ever over-performing. On the other hand, 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 the most versatile member in NCT 127. This helps explain why SME continues to push him to the forefront of the group.

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 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, one that we hardly hear at all, 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, both 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 NCT 127, who brings in a set of pipes to a line-up that vocally under-performs, but Johnny's presence is a bit confusing. He doesn't offer much to gauge on this EP, which is a missed opportunity given that this is his official debut. Even members that are allowed a moment or two to chime in, like Yuta and Haechan, get lost behind the lead voices in the group. Limitless is a solid effort, yet for an SME group, it's interesting that so few NCT 127 members have managed to truly shine in their second outing.