The city’s music scene is rich and bountiful, which is a great boon for listeners and concertgoers—less so for artists trying to find a place in all that richness and bounty. Singer-songwriter Emily Chloe Quinn’s EP, “My Own Mountain,” dropped late last year, and at first glance you can see why it didn’t immediately break through the noise; it’s an intimate song cycle in which a woman speaks directly to five separate lovers about five separate relationship issues (or, who knows, maybe the same lover at five different stages). There are no histrionics or high drama; it’s subtle and direct and absolutely whip-smart. So, yeah, put that in the mix with a new crop of banger-slingers and face-melters, and guess what gets picked up.
But here I am in February, still listening to “My Own Mountain” and finding new things to admire. It’s a deceptively compact work—of the six tunes, only one is longer than three minutes—and the chamber-like lightness of tone, plus Quinn’s small, girlish voice, can give you the mistaken conclusion that this is the kind of evanescent stuff that’s easily dismissed. But it grips you by degrees; this record is a master class in sly subjugation.
Quinn’s voice might be small, but it’s also appealingly crystalline and remarkably supple; when she makes her first octave leap in the opening track (the title tune), your eyebrows involuntary rise with her voice. As for her songwriting, it’s the real deal. The lovely airiness of these songs disguises the fact that they’re skillfully—often brilliantly—constructed.
In each tune, Quinn has clearly thought through the symbiosis of music and lyrics. In “Love Me Lightly,” for example, the singer begins by laying out her grievance in a melody line that’s both yearning and burning: “I really wanna talk to you / But there’s nothing I can say to you / Everything’s been said / Drilled into my head.” This resolves into a flat-out assertion—“I just want somebody who loves me / Not somebody who always has to hold me so tightly”—delivered with a staccato percussion nailing each beat. This is immediately followed by the phrase, “Love me, but lightly,” her voice dropping into a ravishing little cascade, spilling away from urgent confession into winsome plea. It’s a complete emotional arc, pulled off with dazzling control and disarming sweetness.
Each track has its own distinctive and often enchanting sonic identity. “Hunger”—less a song than a sustained musical couplet in waltz time (there is, notably, no bridge)—has a hushed, gliding feel; I picture Quinn on ice skates, skimming delicately across a frozen pond. “See Me Still,” another waltz, has a quirkily delicate carnival air, and some wryly witty lyrics.
Even though you took away two years
Every song and every friend you gave
And I freely held what you gave me until I caused you pain
You told your friends that you’d never see me again
But you did anyway
The standout tune is, fittingly, the title cut, a coming-into-her-own ballad in which the singer breaks with the lover she’d previously depended on (“You were my mountain / Solid, steady constant”) after coming to realize he isn’t up to the job (“And when the earth shakes as it is prone to do / Why do you blame the sky for what it does to you?”). She concludes, “And so I learn to be my own mountain.” It’s a stirring declaration, even though you’ve seen it coming; but what you don’t see coming is the moment, after the line’s final refrain, when she turns back and throws a lifeline to the discarded lover: “And you can learn to be your own mountain.” And she’s not just telling him, of course: she’s telling us.
I can understand why Quinn led the EP with this song—it’s the strongest, and the most representative of who she is—but when you play this record (as I urge you to do), maybe save this track for last. Because that final flourish of emotional generosity shows a woman who’s arrived—who’s come through the fire with a full measure of wisdom and grace.
Emily Chloe Quinn has, by my yardstick, likewise arrived. Hoping for a full album next time. And a front-row seat at the record-release gig. Just one, please: but wide enough to accommodate both me and my mountain.
“My Own Mountain” is available at Emily Chloe Quinn’s Bandcamp page.
Robert Rodi is an author, spoken-word performer and musician who has served as Newcity’s Music Editor since 2014. He’s written more than a dozen books, including the travel memoir “Seven Seasons In Siena,” and his literary and music criticism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Salon, The Huffington Post and many other national and regional publications.