Matt Boroff has covered a lot of musical ground in a career spanning more than 20 years, but his goal has always been the same. Whether exploring experimental noise-rock in the Nineties or honing the urgent alt-rock surrealism of Matt Boroff and the Mirrors in the 2000s, sharing the stage with such boundary-pushing artists as Bad Brains, Nirvana, Calexico, Queens of the Stone Age and Mark Lanegan (with whom he collaborates on the new Filling in the Cracks EP), the constant has been Boroff’s drive to create expansive musical backdrops with stimulating lyrics that forge a direct connection with the audience.
That quest reaches a new benchmark with “Filling in the Cracks,” a four-song EP that finds the American-born, Austria-based musician streamlining the sweeping approach of his 2010 solo debut “Reaching for Sparks” and his soundtrack work on the 2009 Zach Galifianakis film “Little Fish, Strange Pond.” Where those projects displayed a more orchestral feel, Boroff opts for a starker palette: just guitar, bass, drums and some piano and organ. The result serves as a perfect jumping-on point for listeners who haven’t yet discovered Boroff’s vivid lyrical imagery, searching delivery and arresting sonic atmospheres.
All of those hallmarks are immediately apparent in the opening title track, as Boroff’s rumination on having “left the upstairs world behind [and] joined the kingdom of the blind” is punctuated by a stark yet resonant guitar line that hovers in the background, conjuring images of both the Mississippi Delta and a Spaghetti Western.
Boroff admits that he’s attracted to what he calls “Old-World sounds”—a palette that can include the film soundtracks of Ennio Morricone or works like Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and the vintage blues, jazz and vaudeville explorations of Tom Waits. The latter are evident on “Garbage Man,” a compelling duet with alternative and indie-rock icon Mark Lanegan, whom Boroff met while opening for Lanegan and Isobel Campbell in Europe. The spare, lingering backdrop, evoking images of a late evening in a European café, adds a layer of color but cedes the spotlight to the interplay between the two voices.
“All Going Down With the Ship” opens up the musical terrain a bit, the arrangement rising and ebbing to lend an air of subtle menace to Boroff’s grim tableau, an impending doom from which “our money cannot save us/ there is nothing here to win.” That theme of facing a bleak present is echoed in the closing “In Our Loneliness,” a reflective ballad in which the narrator takes solace in the existence of others confronting a similar fate, “together in our loneliness.”
With enough ambiance, emotion and thought-provoking moments for a release twice as long, “Filling in the Cracks” isn’t an EP so much as a mini-album, a calling card for a veteran musician doing what he does best while still honing and expanding his craft more than two decades on, all in pursuit of the same goal he’s always kept at the forefront of his music.
“I’m just trying to exteriorize something that resonates in me,” he says, “trying to render it as honestly as I possibly can, and holding nothing back when I do it.”