The phrase “Visual Music” is one that’s rarely applied to any new bands that cross my transom these days. The last time I hauled those words out of the Rock-Critic-Speak vault was maybe in a review of Mercury Rev or Barry Adamson (two artists well immersed in the domain of soundtrack composition), and that was years ago. But that elusive label fits very snugly on a recently released 4-song EP, Filling in the Cracks, from singer/songwriter/multi instrumentalist Matt Boroff – a recently-discovered-by-me artist who, while completely new to my ears, has evidently been making adventurous music for twenty freakin’ years! Wow, who knew? As I learned in a series of email exchanges with the artist this past weekend, even Boroff refers to himself as a “Gold Medalist in the Best Kept Secret Olympics.” I would like to help change that.
A critique of one of Matt’s past recordings, 2008’s Elevator Ride, makes reference to the music “conjuring images of Spaghetti Westerns and sweeping desert landscapes” – and that last sentence fragment on its own should sufficiently compel you to buy / download everything the guy has ever committed to recorded media. But what leapt immediately to my mind when I heard the EP’s title track was “David Lynch Movie”; probably because “Filling In The Cracks” sounds like an eloquent modern hybrid of Angelo Badalamenti’s “Theme From Twin Peaks” and some of that (pardon my French) mind-tweaking shit that Barry Adamson laid down for Lynch’s completely under-worshiped cinematic masterpiece, Lost Highway. Poetic lyrics are all well and good, but when it comes to effectively creating a soundtrack for the movies in your head, it’s all about the sound. With Matt Boroff, there are no compromises in this arena.
Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones, Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to Once Upon a Time in the West, Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate, and Portishead’s Live venture, Roseland, NYC are four albums that Matt listened to and was most influenced by while working on this EP, so you can see (and hear) that he has top shelf taste in music to begin with. And in the tradition of one-man band geniuses, he played all instruments on the CD including guitar, bass, organ, piano and hand percussion, with assistance on the drum kit from drummer Little Konzett, who played on all four tracks. (Just as an interesting aside, Konzett is also a well-reputed recording engineer based in Austria, where Boroff now lives). How has Matt Boroff flown under my radar for twenty years? I can’t figure it out.
When you have the songwriting chops that Boroff has, it’s not hard to get four great songs on a four-song EP, but these songs are really good. The anguished, affecting “Garbage Man” features guest vocals by Screaming Trees front man Mark Lanegan (the only other guest artist on the disc besides Konzett), whom Matt met and subsequently became friendly with when he opened for a 2011 gig by Mark and Isobel Campbell in Vienna. “After my set,” Matt offers, “Mark approached me backstage and said very complimentary things, which meant a lot to me, since I’ve been a longtime fan of his.” With their complimentary vocal styles, the collaboration between Boroff and Lanegan is perfectly matched. There’s also a rousing, pub sing-along, “All Going Down With The Ship,” that flaunts guitar work recalling Greg Lake’s acoustic fingering on “From The Beginning.” The EP wraps up with “In Our Loneliness,” which is sort of a reverse love song with amazing, wistful, haunting lyrics. This EP is the definition of “Listening Pleasure.”
But getting back to how it sounds: what ties these songs all together in a bundle of ecstatic transcendence is Boroff’s palette of resonant, brooding guitar tones. Matt explained that the guitar tones on the album engage directly with the space that surrounds them. “I’m more interested in using the guitar as a tool to evoke some kind of mood or atmosphere than I am with this or that particular amp,” he says. “That’s always the guiding principle for whatever the tone ends up being.” Matt used only two guitars throughout the recording; a Fender Cyclone and a Martin acoustic. “When it comes to getting the tones I want to hear,” he continues, “I’ll just keep changing the way I play the guitar until it sounds right to me.” Boroff will often try to mimic the sounds of other instruments by changing the picking position or pickups, and using them in different combinations to emulate sounds of instruments he doesn’t own, such as a dobro or a pedal steel guitar.” Resourceful!
Recommended if you like Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Mark Lanegan or any of the other artists mention in this review, Matt Boroff’s Filling in the Cracks EP is available now on disc via CD Baby (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/mattboroff) for just $6.00 (what a bargain!), and for download at iTunes and Amazon.com. Like Matt’s FaceBook Fan Page and download one of his songs for free at This Link!