NCT - NCT 2018 Empathy

 
NCTNCT2018EMPATHY.png
 

Release Date: March 14th, 2018
Label: SM Entertainment
Genre: Rap/Hip-Hop/R&B/Rock/Electronica
Length: 14 Songs/44:32


 

01. INTRO: Neo Got My Back {N/10} 
I'm passing on giving this song a score, mostly because it's less of a song and more of a presentation to help set up your expectations for the rest of the album. 

02. BOSS {9/10}
The deep, dark bassy tones from the introduction persist into this track, and culminate into an addictive beat alongside equally catchy vocals. The latter half of the song plays a bit more with experimental sounds, but they manage to stay within the boundaries of what I would consider reasonable. NCT U does an excellent job riding the bouncy synth instrumentals with smooth, crispy vocals, and their singing and rapping both sound effortless. The duality of this combination of styles is immaculate, and make this song irresistible. 

03. Baby Don't Stop {9/10}
The same style of wavy, low-pitched synth continues in "Baby Don't Stop." This time around we're giving a bit more of upfront treble to act as a counterweight, which safely gives a distinct sound to each song. The whispering portions of the track dredge up memories of the Ying Yang Twins, though thankfully it's not as persistent or perpetual in this song as they were in 2005. The scatting towards the end of the song was a bit awkward, though it was short enough and at the conclusion so it didn't interrupt anything. All in all, this song is another great showing of NCT U's diversity of styles within a genre.

04. GO {5/10} 
You can summarize this song very quickly with one single word - noisy. I'll be upfront and admit that I've not really ever been the biggest fan of NCT DREAM in general, but this song does them no favors. The constant wubbing instrumentals distracts from the fairly good vocals during the verses, and then by the time the chorus hits there are so many other noises assaulting your ears that it just feels messy. That isn't to say that this song is without its good parts, because there are some - the escalating bridge, the second verse's rap, and the softer portion of the chorus are all pretty great. Sadly while there are those glimmers every now and then, the majority of this song is oppressed and eclipsed by the overwhelming weight of everything else. 

05. TOUCH {8.5/10} 
"TOUCH" is the first song on the album that provides a stark contrast to the style and vibes of the songs prior to it. Right from the get go there are bright, cheerful tones, and this sort of feel-good atmosphere perseveres throughout the duration of the track. NCT 127's vocals are just as peppy, if not more so, and they really do add to the composition. This song is easy to listen and relax to, and while the "nanana" lyrics are a bit simple and nursery rhyme-esque, they still serve the purpose of the song well enough. 

06. YESTODAY {9/10} 
Just as the title would imply, this track hearkens back to an older style of music while putting a modern day flourish on them. The instrumentals have that old school feel, and the raps also inherit that nostalgic mood. There are great examples of NCT U's singers and rappers once more on this track, as well as their ability to play off one another. The deliveries of both styles accent the song nicely, and makes the track extremely accessible for all kinds of listeners.

07. Black on Black {8/10} 
"Black on Black" feels more like a combination of two shorter songs than a single one, but they aren't terribly far apart from one another to a point of becoming discordant. The earlier part of the song is almost entirely focused on the rapping, with low-toned bass and swinging distortions, while the latter half gets a bit more dancey synth themes. Overall this is the most experimental track on the album, as well as being the most focused on proving NCT's capability in the hip-hop genre. It's a solid attempt at some interesting ideas, though it's mostly just not my style of song.

08. 텐데… (Timeless) {7.5/10} 
"Timeless" really shakes the album up by presenting a ballad in the midst of everything else. Piano and string instruments collaborate together to create a simple, soft atmosphere for NCT U to gently serenade over. While ballads generally aren't my thing, this song does a few things that I think are worth noting: it shows NCT U's vocals, and it shows NCT U's ability to really change their style up. It's always important for groups to prove both of these to the public, and I think that "Timeless" does that without question. 

09. 일곱 번째 감각 (第七感 ; The 7th Sense) {8.5/10} 
This is one of two tracks that were technically released last year, but were included on this album for one reason or another. My assumption would be because the sales and/or reception for each was favorable. In any case, this was the first song to come out of NCT U ever, and it still holds up in comparison to their new songs. The minimal instrumentals favor the sort of swagger style they were aiming for, and you can still hear and feel this in the prior hip-hop-centric tracks on the album. I remember being semi-impressed by this song when it first came out, and it definitely helped me see that NCT had some serious potential. 

10. WITHOUT YOU {10/10} 
"Without You" is the other track on this album that's from NCT U's original debut. I'll be upfront and admit that this was one of my favorite tracks from that year in general, and it is still to this day my favorite song from any of NCT's units. I love the lighter rock instrumental style, especially because it's so rare to hear in K-pop. The slow but gradual strums during the verses pair and contrast excellently with the more upbeat chorus, and all of the vocals are so buttery and soft that it just gives the whole song a very airy feel. This track still holds up well, though I'll admit it feels a bit awkward on this album since it doesn't really fit in at all.

11. WITHOUT YOU (Chinese Ver.) {N/10} 
I'm passing on giving this track a score simply because it's the same song, just in a different language.

12. 梦中梦 (몽중몽 ; Dream In A Dream) {8/10} 
If you don't know already, this song is technically just member Ten's, not actually NCT's. As one should expect with a title about dreams, this song is very atmospheric and ethereal. The use of traditional Asian folk instruments was perfect to put listeners into a very relaxed state much like they would be when sleeping. This track focuses much more on the instrumentals than the vocals, though both are well done. It's also great knowing that Ten apparently helped in the production of this track, especially since a majority of this track is focused on the song structure than vocals or instrumentals alone. As the last real song on the album, this is also a fantastic way to lead listeners to the end. 

13. OUTRO: VISION {N/10} 
I'm passing on giving this track a score because it's just an outro. It's pretty good, though!

14. YESTODAY (Extended Ver.)(Bonus Track) {N/10} 
I'm passing on giving this a score for two reasons: one, because this track is only on the digital edition of the album, and two because it's generally the same song still, just a bit longer and with a different structure. There's a much bigger focus on the raps and while I like it a lot, I don't see myself scoring it any differently. That being said, I'd love to see SM experiment more with these types of inclusions. 

 
 

▲ = Favorite song on the album
▼ = Least fav. song on the album
 

 

Summary
NCT 2018 EMPATHY is an album that encompasses a small array of genres, but it features a solidly-packed variety of takes on those genres. This album ventures into gritty, crunchy rap themes and lighter hip-hop themes. It also steps into dance-centric R&B, helping to counter itself from being too heavy overall. There are a couple of tracks that pull away from those classifications, though those are the two dominant styles overall. For the most part, these tracks range from good to excellent, and I'd say that this is a solid collection of songs overall. While the album jumbles itself from being entirely cohesive a few times, it's stable enough to remain intact and is an excellent display of many reasons that NCT is growing rapidly in popularity.

Overall Score: 8.5/10