NCT Dream’s 'Reload' album review: Ridin’ back to K-pop basics for boyband subunit

  • Latest EP is a return to form for young superstars
  • Quiet Down and Puzzle Piece show willingness to experiment with different sounds
Chris Gillett |

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K-pop boyband NCT Dream have dropped 'Reload', their fourth EP.

We really didn’t enjoy NCT Dream’s last mini-album We Boom, released last summer, but thankfully their latest effort Reload is a step in the right direction.

Opening track Ridin’ certainly carries on where the NCT sub-unit left off, with the very bare instrumentals of We Boom. In fact, all we can really pick up on is the half-time electro rhythms and distant siren, so if there are any other layers to this track, they are completely buried in the mix.

However, the five-piece really do give it their all from a vocal standpoint, mixing it up with group chants, descending chromatic refrains and an amped-up energy to their performance. It’s just a shame their efforts aren’t supported well by the backing music.

Quiet Down is a bit more rewarding, thanks to the industrial buzzing synth loop that runs throughout, while thick synth chord washes pulse through the chorus for a cathartically melodic release, compared to the minimal and rapped verses.

NCT Dream really switch it up for the remainder of this mini-album. 7 Days is far more relaxed with its J-pop-esque pitch-bending keyboard chords and lo-fi chill-hop feel, along with more dynamic control in their singing. Love Again is perhaps a little tongue-in-cheek, but it makes for the most fun and easy to follow track here. With a steady dance beat, call and response lead melody/group chants, a super high-end hip-hop synth line, and even some DJ scratching thrown in for good measure, this unashamedly and playfully ticks all the 90s boxes from start to finish.

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Closer Puzzle Piece takes an unexpected but rewarding turn, offering a lightly strummed acoustic ballad. With occasional off-beat rhythm changes and palm slaps, there are distinct Sheeran-like moments, but this is outshone by the group’s tender and contemplative chorus, “Finally I solved it/You filled every piece of my heart/Even in the scarred of it to the fullest/And somehow you’ve become my everything/My missing puzzle piece.”

Reload shows NCT Dream giving themselves a bit of a reboot on their fourth mini-album, and it seems to have paid off.

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