NCT 127’s ‘Awaken’ album review: K-pop meets gangsta rap as Seoul sub-unit find a sweet spot between sugar and spice

The 10 members of Neo Culture Technology’s subgroup have a winner in ‘Touch’, but other tracks are only so-so

Chris Gillett |
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Following in the footsteps of BTS and Blackpink, K-pop 10-piece NCT 127 round off a month of big-hit releases, with their first Japanese full-length album Awaken – but it takes a while to get going.

Kicking off in their usual trap-heavy style, Lips, Wakey-Wakey and lead single Chain are all repetitive, brash, gangsta rap tracks with little to grasp hold of. The instrumental mixes are all over the place, and the high frequencies of the choruses are so coarse that they’re (ironically in Wakey-Wakey’s case) as disorientating as an alarm clock.

At the heart of Awaken, NCT 127 do manage to find their sweet spot. Touch, which is a contender for one of the best K-pop tracks of the year so far, balances their token “na-na-na-na” singalongs, with a dynamic chorus over a clumsy, but infectious electro beat. Blow My Mind and Limitless show nice polyrhythms and syncopated synth riffs, before the ballad Long Slow Distance, and closer End To Start highlight their emotional range and complexity.

This isn’t to say the unit can’t pull off an aggressive g-rap tone, as Kitchen Beat can attest, but they need to be hitting the mark more often if they want to compete at the highest level.

Edited by Nicole Moraleda

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