2017 In Review: Day 7 – Folk and Country

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2017 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 Blues
9. Crossover and Other
10. Best Collaborative Work
11. Rookie Artist of the Year
12. Artist of the Year
13. Song of the Year
14. Album of the Year
15. Other Recognition
16. Concluding Remarks

A little light on the country this year, unfortunately, and doubtless that is partly on me for missing out on what was there. But did we ever get some folk in 2017. From tour-de-force solo debuts to heartrending project albums, sometimes in rhythms of lonesome guitars and sometimes in the luxurious scale of orchestras, we were in good hands this past year.

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 2017

Dhani Song – Songs for an Afterlife

Songs for an Afterlife is a collection of eight very different stories. Some are addressed directly, while others are recounted as if a timeless fable or an ancient memory. Some are incredibly intimate, while others are practically cosmic in their degree of abstraction. In a very cool feature that I wonder whether was a goal or a consequence, every track is written in a different style of narration (not honorifics) that implies particular relationships between the narrator and other parties. But the deep-seated emotions that underlie them are universal, and Dhani Song (once of Sogyumo Acacia Band) lays them out bare. I felt on some listens the struggle against forgetting and the desire to hold on against erasure (“Foxfinder”, “Self-Porn Producer”, “An Antique Promise”); at others, the ruinous regret of a past that can’t be changed (“Turning”, “A Buddhist Toast”). Truthfully, Songs is so open-ended that you may well get something very different. Accompanied by a bleak but genuinely beautiful little cadre of guitars, strings and piano (it’s worth the listen just for the instrumentals), these tracks are painfully evocative but also feel essential.

Runner-up Folk and Country Album 2017

Gonne Choi – Nomad Syndrome

It’s a little odd that an album themed around nomadism would open with a song called “Anaspora”, no? Sort of like starting a story at the end. But that’s what Choi does, with a frenetic five-minute instrumental intro that has shades of Second Moon. Thus showing us the destination, Choi then spends the rest of this EP exploring the sojourning nature of modern life. Dreaming of freedom in community (“Highlander”), walking on despite profound fatigues (“Limbo in Limbo”), and stumbling from the cruelty of others (“Gaya”), she journeys onward while riding melodies and arrangements that pulse with hardy, defiant vigor. Hear the arresting power of “Highlander”‘s raw drum work and Choi’s winding performance (a combination reminiscent of 2014’s “Monster”), or the contrasting gracious sparsity of “I Am Water”. Some of folk’s finest moments are to be found here.

The First Ten Out

Big Baby Driver X E Hyeji – Big Baby Driver X E Hyeji

Hong Haelim – 화가새 (The Painting Bird)

Jang Hyun-young – 아스피린 아달린 (Aspirin Adalin)

Jeongmilla – 은하수 (Galaxy)

Kim Mok-in, Siwa, Hwang Puha – 집에 가자 (Let’s Go Home)

Lucid Fall – 모든 삶은, 작고 크다 (Living Small and Tiny Farm)

NY Mulgoki – Blank Knowledge

Shin Seung-eun – 넌 별로 날 안 좋아해 (You Do Not Like Me That Much)

Sunbam – 드림랜드 (Dreamland)

Yoja – Yoja


Best Folk and Country Song 2017

Kim Mok-in, Siwa, Hwang Puha – 집에 가자 (Let’s Go Home) (studio version here)

Many, many songs have been written about the Sewol ferry disaster in the past three years and eight months. Some have mourned the senseless loss of life, with the hundreds of high school students who passed away getting much of the attention; others have channeled fury at those responsible as well as structural ills. “Let’s Go Home” is a little different from them all. The song was written by Hwang Puha, after he visited the mothers of two students who were among the “missing nine” – passengers whose remains were never found before the ferry was salvaged in 2017. (Since this album was released, remains of five of the missing have been found, including those two students.) On top of Kim and Hwang’s gentle accompaniment, the singers tell the story of those mothers, who remained on the piers for years waiting for their children to come home. It’s absolutely devastating, and every time I have trouble finishing the song all the way through. Produced with the help of many volunteers (including families of Danwon High students), “Let’s Go Home” gives timeless voice to a history that should never be forgotten: “Mother is here, so let’s go home // Hold mom’s hand, and let’s go home // How cold was it, in that place // Mother is here, so let’s go home”.


Runner-up Folk and Country Song 2017

Dhani Song – 불법의 잔 (A Buddhist Toast)

I wrote above about the lyrical impact of Songs for an Afterlife. But “A Buddhist Toast”, its lead and most difficult single, is so enigmatic that it’s tough for me to pick up much more than some general moods and themes. (Though I love the can-she-do-that ambitious personifications and flow that feels downright allegorical.) I pick this seven-minute epic instead for the sounds. The song’s arrangement is tame, but nonetheless has its own life. The cello’s low, gentle bow compacting the space and creating a continuous intimacy, before dropping off without warning; the waltz-rhythm guitar inserting squeaks at a clip; the piano showing bouts of staccato attitude. Instruments play off of each other with verve, embracing Song’s tender performance, and the last 90 seconds or so of pure instrumental outro is the wholesome pleasure I wasn’t expecting in this album.

The First Ten Out

Gonne Choi – Highlander (link)

Hareem – Rainbow Bird (link)

Heureun – A Night With the Light On (no YouTube link)

Hong Haelim – 낙엽놀이 (Little Birds) (link)

Kang Tae-gu – 그랑블루 (Bleu) (link)

Kim Sawol – 달아 (Sweet) (link)

Needle & Gem – 34N125E (link)

ooohelen X Leesamshun – 관성 (Inertia) (link)

Sunbam – 피곤한 주말 (Tired Weekends) (link)

Yoja – 왜 (Wey) (link)

Honorable Mentions


Ahn Suzie – 아일랜드 (Island)
Clouds’ Block – 6-9-77
Daonna – Daonna
Doma – 이유도 없이 나는 섬으로 가네 (Without Reason I Head to the Island)
Jaejoo Boys – 드라이브 인 제주 (Drive in Jeju)
Moonmoon – 물감 (Paint)
OddTree – 이상한 나무 (Odd Tree)
Yeonhee Dabang – 신축빌라 (A Villa)
ZeeAnn – Maybe Maybe


Big Baby Driver X E Hyeji – 내일 (Tomorrow)
Boeun – 100 Rays
Cha Bit-na – 밤이 오면 (When the Night Falls on My Heart)
Cloud’s Block – 밤, 너 (Night, You)
CountryGB – 나도 엄마있다 (Mama’s Secret Recipe)
Daonna – Welcome to the Ending
D’avant – 해질녘 그 향기 (That Scent at Sundown)
Dhani Song – 폭스파인더 (Foxfinder)
Dolly – 소년이 돌아왔다 (The Boy Is Back)
Fromm – Linda Linda
Hayne Bae – 바람냄새 (Windy Night)
Jang Pil-soon – 외로워 (Lonely)
Jang Pil-soon – 저녁바다 (Evening Sea)
Jeongmilla – 별 (Stars)
Jeong Neoul – 오늘도 우리의 하루가 흐르네 (Our Day Flows Today)
Jon – 보통의 삶 (Ordinary Life)
Joyful Island – 마크트웨인 (Mark Twain) (Feat. Choi Baek-ho)
Kim Hee-jin – 바보 (Stupid)
Kim Sawol & Yoonjoong – 땐뽀걸즈 (Dance Sports Girls)
Lee Seol-ah – 그냥 있자 (Stay)
Lee Yeo-reum – 우주의 방 (Room in Space) (Feat. Choi Sung-ho, Sung Ji-song)
Needle & Gem – Pigeon’s Home
NY Fish – Miracle
OddTree – 별의 기억 (The Memory of Stars)
OSGJ – Montauk
Park Yong-jun – 기억력 (Memory)
People and People – 스물아홉 봄 (Spring of Twenty-Nine)
Punch – 나의 외로움이 널 부를 때 (When My Loneliness Calls You)
Shin Seung-eun – 넌 별로 날 안 좋아해 (You Do Not Like Me That Much)
Sobo – 소양강 (Soyang-River)
Susan – 열매 (Pruit)
Yoon Do-hyun – Sparks Fly
Yoon Guitar – 슬픈 얼굴을 하고 있다가 (With a Sad Face) (Featuring Fog of January)
Yusom – 여름감기 (Summer Cold)
Zeebomb – 어젯밤 길을 걷다 (Walking Yesterday)

Sources: album art and Dhani Song header image from Bugs Music

Read our past series:

2016 In Review

2015 in Review

2014 in Review

2013 in Review

2012 in Review

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