2016 in Review: Day 7 – Folk and Country

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[2016 in Review]

1. Prelude (Best Album Art)
2. R&B and Soul
3. Rock and Alternative
4. Rap and Hip-hop
5. Dance and Electronic
6. Pop and Ballad
7. Folk and Country
8. Jazz and Crossover
9. Best Collaborative Work
10. Rookie Artist of the Year
11. Artist of the Year
12. Song of the Year
13. Album of the Year
14. Staff Picks
15. Other Recognition
16. Concluding Remarks

This year’s list is real heavy on folk, not insignificant on folk-pop, and a bit light on the country. (Let us know your favorite country albums from the year in the comments!) That doesn’t mean it lacks diversity: folk musicians liberally used varied soundscapes in 2016, starting with our pick for the best album below.

Important: as in previous years, the Album of the Year and Song of the Year (and their runner-ups) are not included in the genre categories. That means that, for example, there could be a folk album that isn’t being recognized on this page because it’s the album of the year. Also, note that all “First Ten Out” and “Honorable Mention” picks are sorted by artist name.


Best Folk and Country Album 2016

Jo Dong-jin – 나무가 되어 (Become a Tree)

It is difficult to do justice to any album in one paragraph, but it’s a real fool’s errand to do so for Become a Tree. Jo Dong-jin’s first album in 20 years is a grand vision wonderfully executed: his penchant for beautiful, serene melody is alive and well here, and each song moves at a deliberate pace (seven-minute tracks are the norm here). While Become a Tree remains a folk album at heart, Jo also works in a significant amount of new-age-type synthetics and ambience, which expand the album’s scale and give it fleshed-out detail. There is a wondrous sense of discovery in tracing out the flow of these tracks alongside the grounded yet rich lyrics. Fifty years since his debut, the artist is still adding to a legendary discography.

Runner-up Folk and Country Album 2016

Kwak Pureunhaneul – 어제의 소설 (Yesterday’s Novel)

The lead single “A Hard Book to Read” has a curious vibe: the guitar and lonely cello are comfortable and cozy, yet the melody line takes a melancholy dive in the chorus for a tense measure or two. Combined with the odd metaphors in that chorus – “I’m a holiday that you don’t take off […] Last night’s dream that you don’t remember”, and the dissonance is palpable. This kind of tension makes Yesterday’s Novel a marvel: Kwak Pureunhaneul has a way with words, employing visceral and narratively forceful lyrics, and her compositions and voice can be chilling even when played softly. These are gifts that are displayed time and again in this album, elevating it above its peers.

The First Ten Out


Best Folk and Country Song 2016

Kim Sawol X Kim Hae-won – 허니 베이비 (Honey Baby)

“Honey Baby” sounds like an extension of Secret and Kim Sawol’s Suzanne, and as such it’s not groundbreaking material. Yet this duo just keeps getting better, and this latest rendition of their haunting folk-pop style showcases some new tricks. A waltz rhythm counted out by light vocalizations, subtle echoes, and trilled piano under the surface make for wonderfully precarious atmosphere, and atop this setting, the two Kims profess a painful affliction and affection. It’s not the prettiest or most perfect love story you’ll ever hear, but it’s no less saccharine sweet.

Runner-up Folk and Country Song 2016

Yoon Guitar – 상처를 줘서 상처가 아니고 (I Never Meant to Hurt You) (Featuring Fog of January)

It’s another Yoon Guitar song where the primary instrument is piano (as the artist likes to point out). This one immediately brings some heavy emotional weight, the austere guitar-piano accompaniment providing a gently bubbling backdrop to Yoon’s attempt to make sense of past missteps. She and Fog of January are similarly gentle in voicing out the tentative conclusion, that “it’s not a wound because you gave it to me”, and rather “the problem was the feelings that had gotten too deep”. This sentence never completes – each line of the chorus is incomplete, ending in an equivalent of “and”. As the gorgeous refrain flows on, the thought is allowed to simply hang there. And it does, floating, inviting further thought; indeed, resonating.

The First Ten Out

Achtung – 내 맘이 비되어 (Rain in My Mind)

Earip - 망명 (Exile)

Earip – 계절이 두 번 (Seasons Changed Twice)*

Gonne Choi – Open the Door

Hwang Puha – 해돋이 (Sunrise)

Jeongmilla – 꽃 (Flower)

Kwak Pureunhaneul – 읽히지 않는 책 (A Hard Book to Read)

Lang Lee - 신의 놀이 (Playing God)

Lang Lee – 신의 놀이 (Playing God)

Lee Ho-suk - 이인자의 철학 (Philosophy of Secondees)

Lee Ho-suk – 유체역학 (Fluid Mechanics)

Lee Seol-ah – 별이 내리는 길목에서 (Somewhere)

Solga & LeeRann – 같이 살자 (Let’s Live Together)

Honorable Mentions


Achtung – 3.5
Gonne Choi – XXXY
Ha Heon-jin – 나아진게 없네 (Nothing’s Better)
Han Dae-soo – Crème de la Crème
Heo Man-sung – Vol. 4
Hwang Puha – 칼라가 없는 새벽 (Dawn Without Color)
Kang Becks – 설은 (Seol-eun)
Kim Se-young – Deepest
Kwon Tree – 사랑은 높은 곳에서 흐르지 (Love Flows From a High Place)
Lee Min-hwi – 빌린 입 (Borrowed Tongue)
Lee Seol-ah -네가 곁에 있었으면 해 (Wish You Were By My Side)
MOONkle – 계절이 바뀔 때 (When Seasons Turn)
Namgida Band – 피고, 지는 시간들 (Times of Blooming and Wilting)
Sam Kim – I Am Sam
Senchihan Bus – 책갈피 (Bookmark)
Solga & LeeRann – 노래, 거닐다 (Songs, Wander Among)
Summer of Thoughts – 다시 숲 속으로 (Into the Forest Again)
SunKyum – 시작 (The Beginning)
Yu Soliy – 쉼표 (,) (Comma)


Afrodino – 그 해 겨울 (That Winter)
BoYa – 향 (Incense)
Cosmos Hippie – 어쩌면 만약에 (What If)
Fog of January – 어제도, 오늘도 (Yesterday and Today)
Han Dae-soo – 아무리 봐도 안보여 (I See Something, I See Nothing) (Featuring Lee Woo-chang)
I:magine – 바람의 바깥 (Outside of the Wind)
Joung Saenansul – 오르막길 (Uphill Path)
Kang Hye-in – Won’t You
Kim Chang-hoon – 흑석동 (Heukseok-dong)
Kim Il-du – 마모 (Eroding) [Track 5]
Ku Hye-sun – 머리가 나빠 (Stupid)
Lee Han-chul X Now – 이 나이쯤에 (Around This Age) (Featuring Bayaheuro)
Lee Jang-hyuk – 나쁜 년 (Evil Woman)
Lee Jung-ah – 항구의 별 (Star in the Harbor)
Lee Min-hwi – 빌린 입 (Borrowed Tongue)
MOONkle – 스물둘, 겨울 (Twenty Second Winter)
Morrie – Stupid Love Song
Neo Franco – The Season
People and People – 꽃청춘 (Blooming Youth)
See Soul – 너라서 좋아 (The Best)
Senchihan Bus – 딴생각 중 (Thinking of Something Else)
Shin Cho-yi – 별 헤는 밤 (Night Counting Stars)
Shin Seol-hee – 또 다른 계절 (Another Season)
Sobo & Xieun – 그 카페 (That Cafe)
Soyoungi – 걱정 (Worry)
SunKyum – Alright!
Taru – 나무 (Tree)
Uncle Peter – 마음을 열다 (Open Mind)
Yoon Guitar – 끝을 알 수 없는 이야기 (Story Without End in Sight)
Yoon Seul – 여름 가을 (Summer Autumn) (Featuring Jun Jeduk)
Yu Soliy – 당신, 하지 말지요 (Hey You, Don’t Do That)

*Not available on YouTube.

Sources: album art and Kim Sawol X Kim Hae-won header image from Bugs Music

Read our past series:

2015 in Review

2014 in Review

2013 in Review

2012 in Review

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