He sings off-key at times, sometimes in conjunction with the "flange effect" applied to his vocal tracks. Off-key singing is imperative, but must be delicately executed. You must first know how to sing on-key, so when you sing off-key, it is obvious that it's fueled by severe depression due to a recent heart-wrenching break-up. Murphy employs this sentiment on "In Your Wrist." He sings, "Hey baby, I thought I saw you at the mall/you were having your name air-brushed on a license plate/and returning a skirt that was a bit too small." Those are dumped lyrics, by golly!
Another lo-fi requirement: some sort of indefinable keyboard. It's not necessarily a Casio. As 4-tracks become more accessible, Casios and their ready-made beats are more difficult to obtain (probable reason: hitting the "bossa nova" button is much easier than programming a drum machine). Said keyboard is likely a two-dollar thrift store find, often originally designed for the tuneful amusement of toddlers. Murphy, however, does get lo-fi credibility for actually using a Casio throughout Early Bird Special.
The subject of Jesus is a pretty surefire component of a successful lo-fi album, provided said Jesus is mentioned in a somewhat comical /ironical/abstract manner. Extra points are awarded if Jesus is mentioned in a context that makes little to no sense. John Murphy example: In "One that Fits," the lyric is "Jesus made me do it strangely in the dark/I could feel his whiskers/I could kill a shark." Does that make sense? No. Is it an acceptable mode of communication in the world of lo-fi recording? Yes!
Lo-fi recordings, in this age of indie-rock mp3s, might be the only true underground left. In addition, lo-fi CDs are akin to really personal zines, and you can't necessarily judge them by the same standards as the new Spice Girls CD. That's like comparing the zine "journalsong" to Nabokov's Lolita--while both are typed on paper, they live in entirely different worlds.
The world of lo-fi is an introspective one, often fueled by the indiscriminate ingestion of too many Americanos. Anyone can obtain a cheap 4-track (try pawn shops for the non-digital kind) and use it as an outlet for those sorrowful and simple guitar lines. Take it from John Murphy: it's fun, easy, and a super outlet for that postmodern, class-discrepant, just-got-dumped slump.