Darnielle dedicates the album to his stepfather, by whom the album was "made possible". Many lyrics refer to Darnielle's abusive childhood – especially in the songs "This Year", "Dance Music", and "Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod". The tone of the album is somber, dealing with Darnielle's longing for escape and his feelings of powerlessness, building up to the song "Lion's Teeth," which Darnielle has described as a "revenge fantasy".
The album is summed up in the final two songs: "Love, Love, Love," in which he notes the virtue and folly of doing things for reasons of love, and "Pale Green Things," in which he recalls a time his stepfather took him out to watch horses at a racetrack. Darnielle closes the song and the album with a lyric about his sister calling him to inform him of his stepfather's death.