I’m a sucker for surf guitar grooves, and am really enjoying what seems to be a resurgence of surf rock in all its variations, whether it be garage, psychedelic, punk or even grunge. So I was pleased when the musician Stephen Denning reached out to me about his music project Boogie Board, and his latest album Ferric Tape Noir, which dropped at the end of January. Denning is a solo artist from Chicago who describes his music as “fuzzy midwestern garage/ psych/ surf rock.” He writes, performs, records and masters all his music directly onto a 4-track tape machine in order to achieve a lo-fi sound, and I after listening to the album, I’d say he succeeds quite nicely.
Before getting into the music itself, I’ll provide a bit of background about music tape. Curious about the words “Ferric Tape” in the album title, I Googled it and learned “ferric” refers to ferric oxide, one of the oxides of iron that happens to be magnetic. That quality makes it an ideal coating for tape that allows both the recording and removal of sound. The tape coating on most cassettes sold today as either “normal” or “chrome” consists of ferric oxide and cobalt mixed in varying ratios. According to the website Cassetro, “ferric tape offers deep booming bass, warm mid-range and excellent high frequencies up to 16 kHz (the upper end of most people’s hearing range).” Now I understand why Boogie Board would choose ferric tape to record his music.
He’s been a busy guy the past year, releasing his debut 12-track album Surf N Turf in May 2017, then following up with a five-track EP Dream Telepathy in September. He dropped Ferric Tape Noir at the end of January 2018, then two months later released a double single Portal Window & Infinity Stairs.
Most of the tracks on Ferric Tape Noir are brief, generally running one and a half to just over two minutes, with the exception of “Moon Waves,” which is three minutes long. Also, many are simple instrumental compositions, beginning with album opener and title track “Ferric Tape Noir,” where Boogie Board delivers a repetitive gritty bass-like riff to a rat-a-tat drum beat. I say ‘bass-like’ because though the heavy, gravelly riffs on his songs sound like they come from a bass guitar, he told me they’re all actually only guitar. He added that one track is guitar run through an amp and another features guitar through a bass amp, with the remaining tracks dedicated to drum machine and vocals.
“Moon Waves” is more fully-developed, with an intricate little surf guitar riff flitting over another sustained gravelly riff and frantic drum beat. His extremely distorted vocals add an interesting, rather spooky dimension to the song. The psychedelic “Flying Shadow” is a lively romp, with jangly and fuzzy guitars following a bouncy punk dance beat. We can hear Boogie Board’s distorted repeating chants of “flying shadow” in the background. One of my favorite tracks is “Magic Swamp,” with dense, gritty riffs and a hypnotic beat. I love the bluesy guitar riff in the song’s second half.
“Cowabunga” and “Abyss With Me” are straight-up lo-fi surf rock at its best. The latter track has more distorted vocals of him repeatedly wailing the song’s title. “Night Walk” is very short, basically consisting of a repetitive riff over a gentle tapping drumbeat. Another favorite of mine is album closer “Spectral Glide.” It’s one of the more melodic tracks, with an intriguing guitar riff floating above what sounds like a very gritty bass line and muffled drumbeat.
I thought I’d also touch on his latest two tracks. “Portal Window” has a great little riff along with his highly distorted vocals that are basically unintelligible, but highly effective in giving off a mysterious vibe he seems to want to achieve in his songs. “Infinity Stairs” delivers a fast-paced tempo with rapid thumping drums and more of his awesome fuzzy guitars, along with some tasty added side riffs. I can hear him sing “infinity stairs” but can’t quite make out the rest of the lyrics.
Overall, I like Boogie Board’s interesting style of lo-fi surf/garage rock, and the roughness of his sound. I think he’s a talented guitarist, and would like to see him try some more fully developed melodies and guitar riffs that would make his songs even more intriguing.
Stephen is also a talented graphic artist. You can check out some of his work on his Instagram page.