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needle in a haystack: sydney mills runner

I gravitate towards large sets of data. Sorting through piles, looking at the mess load of items, until one of them strikes my fancy enough to pick it up. While browsing the vast selection of the Bandcamp “alternative” tag from the bottom, as to get the most obscure stuff first, I found my needle in the haystack. A black and white cover of a young girl giving a thumbs up. The photo of the girl seemed to look like the kind of unsolicited flick a mom would take at your 4th grade sleepover. Something that an unregulated Shutterstock library could offer you. This synthesized emotional connection intrigued me, as if the artist was trying to make me feel like a close friend rather than a listener.

When I put on sydney mills runner, the artist’s self-titled project, I knew my search hadn’t been for nothing. From that strange album cover blared an equally strange trio of bedroom folk tracks. They proceeded to bury themselves like parasites into my gray matter. This album is a borderline bedroom folk blend. Boasting warm acoustics, minimal drums, and a smattering of digital synthesis, all blanketed in a stunner of a record performance. Their voice is scratching and driven, sung from the rooftops, but most likely recorded on a laptop mic. The album also makes heavy use of vocal ambience, with runner’s harmonies adding lushness to simple tracks.

When the term “amateur” is applied to music it usually comes as an insult, equating lack of skill with lack of quality. Deeming a creative work something “good enough” before being scoffed at. When I call this EP “amateur” I mean nothing of that sort. The project feels unfinished, but in a way that leaves me wanting more from an entity I already felt connected to. I want to see them grow and evolve, knowing from just a three song introduction that runner’s creative voice was something special. Sloppiness adds to the project in its own right. With wrong notes, vocal mistakes, and the song “witch” starting with a 20 second audio test, making this feel like a jam session in the artist’s bedroom. Humanity and messiness, united through melody.

When I dig through lists of music, I never know what I’m in for. Good things aren’t uncommon, but sydney mills runner is different. The project’s pure obscurity (0 Bandcamp supporters, 0 Spotify listeners) leaves me feeling ecstatic over stumbling across it. I am lucky to have found this album and I hope it doesn’t slip through the cracks.

This article was originally written on November 1st, 2023, on the floor of my friend’s dorm room. I think we were listening to the radio. Thank you to anyone and everyone involved with the inspiration and creation of this piece.