The penultimate track on Michigan-by-way-of-Philadelphia pop auteur Jim Boggia’s second album is an extended recording of a rainstorm, and it’s a refreshing coda that actually makes artistic sense. There’s something about the obsessions of high-minded tunesmiths that points toward the worship of sound no less than songcraft, whether it’s getting layers of overdubbed guitars or handclaps just right or fitting an alarm clock ring in for punctuation during a song about waking up. How many indie-pop CDs have employed surface noise and needle lifts to mark the halfway point of a post-vinyl elpee’s worth of tunes? On the intro of Something/Anything?, Todd Rundgren offered a demonstration of studio technique; Boggia makes his creative process a major element of Fidelity Is the Enemy, using the lyrics of “Black and Blue” to note “This is the point at which / I need to write a bridge for this / But I haven’t done it yet” and remarking that “I changed the scheme / (it was AABB, now it’s ABAB, baby)” in “So Full.”
That debut defies indie-pop convention by being a stylistic sponge that has soaked up too much Hall and Oates — not literally, but enough to lend the enterprise an unseemly commercial tone. (The Beach Boys cover is a more familiar hallmark.) If you’re gonna title an album Fidelity Is the Enemy and make the cover an adorable photo of the artist as a musical baby, the impulse to record radio mush should be left at the studio door. (And this is by no means lo-fi.) Despite the presence of a few winners, Boggia’s better judgment should have weeded out some of the lesser ideas here.
Safe in Sound is yards better, with more substantial and compelling writing, more cohesive production and a helpful reduction in the self-consciousness. “Underground” is about the ’70s radical bombers; “Talk About the Weather” casts a long look at getting the most out of life. “Final Word” is a desolate breakup song. The music is likewise more assured and original, occasionally jumping the rails (in “Made Me So Happy,” an energetic homage to Elvis Costello’s first album, he worries about the titular ramifications: “…the label wants a single / I haven’t got a thing / Will you please try to piss me off once in a while?”) but basically making the most of time spent.
Misadventures in Stereo splits the difference between the first two albums, leaning in a dozen directions. Boggia celebrates “8track” and “Listening to NRBQ” and leaches most of the power out of the lushly produced pop but still finds a way to hold it all together. Credit the serious streak in this pop craftsman’s work: “Three Weeks Shy” ends the album with a solemn recitation of soldiers’ names.