I remember how severely disappointed I was the first time I heard NCT 127’s Fire Truck. I came away feeling that it was nothing more than a bunch of noise, squandering the drop-dead gorgeous vocals of a song like Without You in an effort to catch trends and present a swag-filled, hip-hop image. Several months later, and Fire Truck went on to find itself a apart of my top 50 tracks of the year. It’s a testament to just how good NCT are at what they do, and how addictive their seemingly disparate elements can become the more time you spend with them.
My initial reaction to Limitless wasn’t as strong, though I was disappointed that yet again the group has been given a track that focuses more on image and bravado than a strong pop hook. But unlike Fire Truck, Limitless starting to grab me on the second listen. The clattered percussion and elastic, agitated synth lines that had once seemed like the equivalent of aural posturing began to pull into focus, anchored by the track’s impressive, layered chorus. In many ways, Limitless takes off where EXO’s Monster ended, presenting an icy, almost militaristic refrain that forgoes the sing-along nature of most k-pop for something more sinister. It’s as if the hooks are lurking just under the surface this time, dulled by a melody that plays it awfully close to a flatline when it comes to delivery. Luckily, the arrangement of the vocals give the chorus a majestic, dense sound that helps it feel like a real moment.
As a nine-member group (two were added this time around), NCT 127 has a wealth of voices and personalities to play with. As usual, Taeyong and Mark take the lead on rap, but it’s the song’s vocal moments that stand out the most. I love the interplay between the vocals and rap as the verses become more complex. I’m not entirely sold on Taeyong’s over-the-top delivery in places, but the liberties he takes with his lines are in keeping with the song’s vibe. And though I still long for the group’s main vocals to be given material that more fully showcases their talents, I expect Limitless to grow even more enjoyable the longer it sticks around.