2018 In Review: Day 9 – Folk and Country

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2018 In Review

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

Perhaps no genre is more overlooked these days than folk, but the musicians and poets of this scene continue to produce works that are as adaptive and innovative as they are relatable. 2018’s crop featured plenty of cross-experimentation with other styles, but there were also deep considerations about how to hold onto the truth-speaking, soul-stirring essence of folk. The small but hardy group of blues and country musicians put in their fair share, as well.

Jang Pil-soon – Soony Eight is omitted from this post, as it was named our runner-up Album of the Year on Day 2. (It is also not included in our playlist below, as the album is not on Spotify at time of writing.)


  • The “next-best ten” and honorable mention lists are sorted by artist name.
  • This year, we’re providing Spotify playlists of music featured in these lists (provided that Spotify carries the music). The 2018 Folk and Country playlist is here and also embedded below:


Best Folk and Country Album 2018

Lee Gwon-hyeong – 교회가 있는 풍경 (The Local Church)

(The Local Church is not on our playlist since it’s not available on Spotify as of this writing, but it can be listened to/purchased on Bandcamp: link)

Lee Gwon-hyeong’s airy singing and his gentle folk guitar were the backbone of The Local Church, like things usually are in a folk album. But it was Lee’s emotionally charged, instantly memorable melodies and bold usage of alternative sounds that built its striking soundscapes of loneliness and distance, and formed an important meta-message. “Come to See Me”‘s abrupt turn from pastoral ballad to distorted synths and a capella, “The Local Church”‘s solemn electronic outro, the heavy accordions coloring “Soobong Amusement Park” and “Like Someone in Love”; these devices were beautiful and haunting, and Lee invited us to bridge the gaps that often emerged between these distortions and the unperturbed lyrics. The album thus became a reminder of the enduring power of folk in an increasingly teched-up industry.

Runner-up Folk and Country Album 2018

Kim Hae-won – 바다와 나의 변화 (Sea and Myself)

Kim Hae-won’s first full-length solo effort was a deeply introspective one, and fittingly took nearly everything out of the sound except for his voice and a guitar – it felt even more minimalist than the Kim Sawol collaborations at their most sparse. Its stories were the records of a man in lonely struggle against what would overwhelm him – memory, change, burden, sorrow. As a result, Sea and Myself was perhaps the year’s most pure close-listening experience, fifty minutes of deliberate dialogue with vulnerability. If that weren’t enough, Kim made the best of his at-most-two-instruments-at-a-time, crafting arrangements that were consistently beautiful in austerity and sometimes surprising with their ability to snarl and flare.

The Next-Best Ten

9 (Song Jae-kyoung) – 고고학자 (Archeologist)

Kang Asol – 사랑의 시절 (The Day of Love)

Kim Sawol – 로맨스 (Romance)

Hong Haelim – A Way Home

Hwang Puha – 자화상 (Self-Portrait)

Paje, Lee Gwon-hyeong, Park Young-hwan – 인천의 포크 (Folk of Incheon)

Shin Seol-hee – Surge 7.4

Sujin – 내 마음은 (My Mind)

Sunmi Kim – Blow By Blow

Surim – Surim


Best Folk and Country Song 2018

Jang Pil-soon – 아침을 맞으러 (To Greet the Morning)

The gentle warmth that enveloped Soony Eight was of course present in “To Greet the Morning”, and this remake of the 1998 Cho Dong-ik and Kim Jang-hoon original even upped the sense of scale by introducing seaside humming and new age pads to the arrangement. When Jang finally enters the tranquil night almost two minutes in, it’s with a coarse whisper that seems almost as much breathing as singing, as if still coming awake. As she wonders about the still-dark fields, the windy hills and sorrowful rivers, the track rises to a stirring, streaking finale just as dawn breaks. Executed with perfect simplicity, this was among 2018’s great moments of sonic storytelling and a beautiful tone-setter for one of its best albums.

Runner-up Folk and Country Song 2018

Shin Seol-hee – Are You Crying?

Shin Seol-hee’s penchant for interesting methods of escalation is now well-proven, and she added another great piece to the repertoire in 2018. The ponderous “Are You Crying?” saw its choruses marked by a simple shift: Kim Hwan-soo’s terse guitar simply raises its last note of the measure rather than keeping it level (as in the verses), abreast a crystalline piano line. The effect was mesmerizing, and a strangely appropriate fit with Shin’s loaded, interrogative repeats of “why are you crying?”. There is an outward indifference (“It’s just in the past”) to the severance of human connections, but clearly also the effort to process and understand. The ambiguity in both sound and words can be frustrating, but the tangible beauty of the track was enough to make it worth the while.

The Next-Best Ten

Cho Dong-hee – 바다로 가는 기차 (Train to the Ocean)

Hwang Puha – 망각 (Oblivion)

Kimparkchella – 블루스맨 (Blues Man)

Lee Gwon-hyeong – 날 보러 와요 (Come to See Me)

Nana Strange – Death Men

Park Soyu – 밤의 곡예 (Acrobatic in the Night)

Sooryun – 춘하추동 (Four Seasons)

Sujin – 한강 (Hangang River)

Sunmi Kim – 울타리를 세워줄게 (Fix the Fence)

Ureluna – 꿈의 도피 (A Girl’s Escape of Dreams)

Honorable Mentions


e_so – 곳 (Place)
eeeho – Colour
Electricpad – 화합 (Harmony)
Hunger Artist – EP 1
Jandy – Pieces of the Story
Jinsil – New Day
Kimparkchella – Raweird
Park Soeun – 일기 (Diary)
Sooryun – 동화일기: 숨바꼭질 (Fairytale Diary: Find Me)


All About the Bird – 빛나는 너 (You Shine)
Charlie Bean Works – Same
Earip – 짙어만 갑니다 (Autumn Letter)
Elaine – Psycho
Electricpad – 0000.00.00
Electricpad – 당신은 어떤 사람일까요 (What Kind of Person Are You)
Eundohee – Weak
Evelyn – 비갠후 (After Dark)
Fog of January – Moony (With Lee No-young)
Gonne Choi – Childhood
Hong Haelim – 가족사진 (Family Picture)
Hong Haelim – 집으로 돌아가는 길 (A Way Home)
Hunger Artist – 무인도 (Desert Island)
Hwang Puha – 자화상 (Self-Portrait)
Hwang Puha – 지금 이 순간부터 (From This Moment On)
Ipsaem – 안녕, 봄 (Hi, Spring)
Jandy – 휘청거리 (Wandering)
Jinsil – 할머니와 거울 (Grandma’s Heart)
Jung Won-young – 두려움은 없었네 (Fearlessly Mind)
Kang Asol – 섬 (Island)
Kim Hae-won – Listener
Kim Min-ji – 밤이 고요 (Night Is Silent)
Kim Sawol – 누군가에게 (Someone)
Kim Sawol – 세상에게 (Reality Bites)
Kim Sawol – 완벽한 사랑 (Perfect Love)
Lee Gwon-hyeong – 교회가 있는 풍경 (The Local Church) (Feat. Cho Beom-cheon)
Lee Sora – October Lover (Feat. Roy Kim)
Momentsyumi – 유영 (Swimming)
Paje – 점심시간 종소리 (Lunchtime Bell)
Park Soeun – 일기 (Diary)
People and People – 모래알 (Sand Pebbles)
Seo Ja-young – 계절이 바뀌는 것처럼 (Like Seasons Changing)
Seo Ja-young – 환상 (Fantasy)
Shin Seol-hee – Childhood
Siwa – 낮선이에게 (To a Stranger)
Sooryun – 눈물조각 (Piece of Tears)
Sunmi Kim – 그게 사랑 (It Was Love) (Feat. Henrik Freischlader)
Surim – 가을 아침 (Autumn Morning)
Susan – 복순에게 (To Boksoon) (Feat. Oh Jae-cheol)
Wussami – 내가 다 돼줄게 (진짜 다 괜찮은데) (Train to Busan)

Lyric translations by author. Artist profile and album cover images from Bugs Music.

Read our past series:

2017 In Review

2016 In Review

2015 In Review

2014 In Review

2013 In Review

2012 In Review