Coming in more than 10 months since their last EP “We Go Up”, NCT Dream is finally back with EP We Boom. The group has had a mostly silent year, with the exception of a few single releases (and a viral moment at the World Scout Jamboree), making this release highly anticipated amongst fans. However, despite anticipation being high, We Boom is a surprising step back for a group that should have found their footing by now.

The strength of title track “Boom”’ lies heavily in the subtle force of its vocal line. The artful layering and echo effects allows every member’s talent to stand out on their own, rap and vocals alike. One of the most powerful moments of the song very clearly belongs to the bridge — Haechan and Renjun’s impressive belting abilities play off each other beautifully, leading into a final, soulful rendition of the chorus led by Jisung and Chenle. “Boom” has successfully carved out a spot for itself amongst Dream’s short, but incredibly diverse discography. 

While “Boom” is a solid continuation of their mature sound, the rest of the EP feels like both SM and NCT Dream are struggling to nail down what makes them a unit of their own. Their past EPs have, for the most part, been consistent thematically when it came to B-sides, with a standout being “We Go Up”’s debut into their more intense sound. As its successor, “We Boom”’s attempts at continuing the trend of hard-hitting songs ultimately fell flat with “119” and “Stronger.”.

The ominous intro of “Stronger” sets the song up to be a banger, but the chorus feels like a major let-down after the intense pre-chorus buildup. Its overall 80s air is a fun switch-up in sound, though the chorus comes across as unfortunately disjointed. “119” is disappointingly unremarkable even with its powerful chorus. While the energy is high throughout, paired with repeated calls of “Uh Wee” and glass shattering, nothing about it feels distinctly NCT Dream. 

While it is normal for track listings to flow from one genre or mood to another, the stark shift in sounds is glaring here. Going from the hard-hitting “119” to the softer, summer-y pop track “Bye My First…” gave me pause at first listen; it felt like someone had placed them in the wrong order. What might have been an attempt at creating a bridge between the two halves of the EP comes across as an abrupt shift in tone. 

By the time the EP finishes with “Best Friend” and “Dream Run,” it is clear that Dream still wants to cling on to their brighter, pop-centered sound. Between the two, “Best Friend” sticks out as a playful addition to the roster. It is one of the few tracks that truly fits the theme, while still highlighting what makes NCT Dream unique. Meanwhile, “Dream Run” is a busy, over-produced explosion of brass that could have been toned down a bit. As the last track of a largely disappointing EP, its focus on a more big band sound makes it yet another out-of-place miss. 

When the group released their SM Station collab “Don’t Need Your Love” with HRVY earlier this year, it appeared to be a sign that they were embracing a more pop vibe. It went above and beyond showcasing  how a more mature image does not have to be synonymous with creating uncharacteristically intense tracks. However, the diversity in tone from track to track on this EP comes across as more of a confused attempt at pleasing every listener’s preferences. This release is hardly a cohesive addition to their discography. It might be a stretch to say that this could be the impact of Mark’s graduation from the group, given how his rap was a central part of their past works. It is normal for any group to struggle following a change in line-up, but with the planned nature of Mark’s departure, it somehow still feels odd that Dream is running into this problem. 

Fellow NCT subunits have all mostly found a sound and aesthetic that works well for them. In a group that is supposedly centered on youthful energy, perhaps SM should have a clearer idea of what it wants Dream to sound like at this point. With more than half of its current roster set to turn 20 years old next year, qualifying them to graduate, hopefully they will have more chances to impress in the near future. 

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