Better Than Gold
After reuniting as 7 members in late 2020, NCT DREAM decided to take over the world. In 2021, they released their highly-successful and acclaimed first studio album Hot Sauce, and on March 28th they came back with their second full record, Glitch Mode.
To kick things off, let’s first talk about the title track.
The Title Track – Glitch Mode
Glitch Mode is a hip hop dance song, with a heavy 808 bass and a chanting/shouting chorus that is bound to hype you up into oblivion. Although the track is great overall, my main critique would be that the verses drag a bit too long at times.
That builds the hype for the chorus even more, sure, but it also runs the risk of falling too flat. Thankfully, the song is stopped from accidentally becoming boring by the impetuous dance break that erupts mid-track.
After the second verse, a guitar-and bass-heavy dance break takes over seemingly out of the blue (a recurring element in NCT’s discography), making your ears perk up and your mouth agape.
Now, I’m gonna be honest, I am not exactly the biggest fan of this dance break. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great by itself and has all its beats in the right places, but in the context of the song it feels slightly incongruous. It was surprising and exciting, but it still made my nose turn up at first.
The icky feeling went away after listening to the track a few more times, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t still take me aback at times. But hey, it wouldn’t be an NCT title track without a little “oh my God, what the hell is going on” moment.
The song has a music video to go along with it, where we see NCT Dream dancing around in a Video Game store – a nod to the gaming and arcade theme of this whole comeback.
As someone who usually pays a lot of attention to music videos, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by this one (‘cause let’s be honest – I was prepared for the worst). It has gorgeous colors and awesome special effects, and does a great job at mixing the dancing bits with the singing and acting scenes.
Additionally, it perfectly conveys the meaning of the song (i.e., freezing as if buffering in front of your crush), and helps showcase the youthfulness and playfulness behind the track.
Glitch Mode’s music video truly does what a music video is supposed to do – elevate the song, and make sure it leaves a memorable mark on the viewers.
And now, let’s talk about the B-sides.
The Hip Hop Moments
The record begins with Fire Alarm, which is by far one of the strongest album openers I have ever heard in KPOP. With its heavy bass and the chanted hip hop melody, the track makes sure you’re paying attention to Glitch Mode right from the start, and proves that NCT DREAM didn’t come to play with this album.
We have another hip-hop moment with the third track, Arcade, which marks a new collaboration between NCT and Dem Jointz, the skilled music producer who is now taking over KPOP.
Mixing EDM and hip-hop beats, the song is another lively moment in the record, overflowing with energy and hype from every angle. Albeit far from unforgettable, Arcade is objectively good and catchy, and it’s sure to have you bobbing your head along to the beat.
But the most ear-catching hip hop track on the record is Saturday Drip, a 90’s-inspired tune with consistent synths and dynamic rap flows by Mark, Jeno, Jaemin and Jisung.
The song definitely makes for an awesome and energetic listen, hyping you up from beginning to end. Member Mark particularly shines in this track, as he taps into his lower growl-y register, and gives a very interesting delivery.
Pop and R&B – The B-sides
As per the majority of NCT DREAM’s discography, there are multiple pop tracks on Glitch Mode, such as the uplifting It’s Yours, and the synth-infused and funky Better Than Gold. These songs are both very cute and lovely, and fit the group amazingly well.
All members shine in their own way, but vocalists Haechan, Chenle and Renjun particularly stood out to me.
Then, we obviously have some R&B pop moments (a staple musical style in NCT’s discography), with the dreamy Teddy Bear and the retro-inspired Replay, reminiscent of boy groups from the early 2000’s.
Another R&B track is the 10th song, Never Goodbye, a ballad combining a gentle percussion with the charming melody of a Rhodes keyboard and chimes. Instrumental elements are also present in the 9th track Drive, which centers around acoustic piano and guitars.
The two songs do a great job at showcasing the group’s sweet demeanour, with their refreshing and coming-of-age-like qualities.
The album closes with Rewind, a lively mid-tempo R&B pop beat. The track is nothing new for the record sonically, but it’s still absolutely fantastic, and further showcases NCT DREAM’s aptitude for this retro-tinged sound.
Also, can we take a moment to appreciate how perfect it is to end an album with a song called ‘Rewind’? Hats off to whoever made the tracklist!
All in all, Glitch Mode is definitely a great and enjoyable record through and through. It has upbeat and some happy-go-lucky tracks, and a good dose of fun and hard-hitting hip hop moments. And of course, the mandatory NCT elevator tune!
It’s very sonically cohesive, which is mostly a good thing, since it ensures all the tracks fit the overall vibe of the album, and that not a single one feels out of place. But still, this cohesiveness may also be a curse in disguise.
Although all the songs are good, they can come off as a tad too sonically similar, which can make it difficult for listeners to remember each track individually.
For instance, even I had a bit of a hard time telling apart Arcade, Replay and Rewind in my memory at first, as they all seemed to mix together in one musical blob.
I do enjoy the songs when I listen to them (and very much so!), but my mind still tends to go blank if you ask me how any of them go. They’re good, but have a problem with being memorable (in that they’re really not).
But my biggest worry going into this record was whether it was going to be a strikingly brand-new sound for them, or just Hot Sauce in a wig.
As it turns out, Glitch Mode is actually neither. The similarities in vibes and atmosphere with the group’s past work are definitely there, but they seem to have a different nuance this time around.
Hot Sauce was young and fun, carefree and playful. Glitch Mode is all these things too, but there appears to be a bolder and more edgy spin to it. Each LP has their own individual personality and charisma that sets them apart – they’re just very ‘NCT DREAM’ at their core, and that’s how it should be.
Yes, this record is far from a Chewing Gum or a My First And Last (something many people love to cry about), but that’s because as the members grew up over the years, so did their sound.
When they made those songs, they were merely teenagers still in the midst of puberty, and now they are 20-something men navigating through adulthood – of course there is a difference between their music then vs. now. It would be a bit weird to have them release the same kind of songs they made when they were 15 years old at 22, wouldn’t it?
But still – even though their sound has changed, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi in its vibe that has remained constant over the years, and makes sure that everything they release is always, undeniably ‘NCT DREAM’.
Verdict - 8/10