Farrar says that he started writing right after the band finished recording their last album, Okemah and the Melody of Riot, and they actually 22 songs but used only 14 for the final track listing. Farrar says that since they had so much material, it a little bit of the pressure off him as a songwriter and allowed them to experiment with different structures and to think about using different instrumentation.
The first single, "The Picture," is an obvious beneficiary of this different instrumentation. The horns used on the track are a distinctively different sound for the band, and give a soulful twist to the song.
Farrar's writing is rarely more sharp than on the new album. About three-quarters of the way through the album, there's a quartet of songs that are equal or greater than just about anything Farrar has done. One song called "Methamphetamine" is a beautifully executed tale of a lost soul's despair due to the title substance. "Would you take me back, North Carolina, Would you take me back, Arkansas?" the song's narrator plaintively asks. "Blissful days still there to remember, methamphetamine was the final straw." Farrar says that he's always been reluctant to write narrative-type songs, and this is probably thus his first foray into narrative, but he turns out to excel at the style.
The band's official bio describes the new album as "by turns melancholy and exhilarating," yet Farrar's writing is often both, simultaneously.