Formed in 1996 by Kevin Barnes as a solo project, it began as folksy baroque pop like most other Elephant 6 projects. Derek Almstead and Bryan Poole (who frequently performs under the stage name The Late B.P. Helium) soon joined; the groups' first three albums featured this lineup, and the style continued until their fifth album, Aldhils Arboretum. Not only was it their first full-length record to not be a concept album, but it also introduced the dance-friendly style that set them apart from their Elephant 6 peers. This funkier sound kept on evolving on each record, and the group caught the eye of music critics with Sunlandic Twins, with one song from the album even being altered and used in a commercial for Outback Steakhouse.
Their next album marked an even more drastic change from their folk-styled roots. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? was created almost entirely by Kevin Barnes to cope with psychological issues he was experiencing at the time, and featured enough Lyrical Dissonance to make "Komm Susser Todd" sound like "Hey Jude". It also gave birth to Barnes' alter ego, a Camp Gay black Transvestite Glam Rock star named Georgie Fruit. The next two albums, Skeletal Lamping and False Priest, both were predominantly written from the viewpoint and continued the bass-heavy pop sound of the previous album.
The band exemplifies the following tropes:
- Camp Gay: Kevin Barnes' alter ego Georgie Fruit.
- Camp Straight: Despite his flamboyant dress style at live shows, Barnes is straight and was Happily Married to Nina Aimee Grøttland until 2013.
- Barnes even remarked in interviews that he wished to be gay out of fascination with LGBT culture, but someday realized that he just wasn't gay at all.
- Careful with That Axe: Shows up in "Faberge Falls For Shuggie".
- Chekhov's Gun: The trope is mentioned in the first verse of "Plastis Wafer".
- Lover face, i view you as the revolver
introduced in my play, act one
- Concept Album: Their first four albums, as well as Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?
- Design Student's Orgasm: Most of their album covers, drawn by Kevin Barnes' brother David. They make Lisa Frank's art look dull in comparison.
- Epic Rocking: "The Past is a Grotesque Animal" from Hissing Fauna is 12 minutes long, and "No Conclusion" from the companion EP Icons, Abstract Thee comes close to the 10-minute mark.
- Grotesque Cute: The music video for "Wraith Pinned To the Mist (And Other Games)".
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Demo collection The Early Four-Track Recordings - the track names are all Long Titles that, when read in order, present a story about Dustin Hoffman having surreal misadventures while trying to take a bath. None of this has anything to do with the album's content, and the songs originally didn't have any proper titles.
- Intercourse with You: Hissing Fauna showed signs of this, before Barnes went all-out on Skeletal Lamping and False Priest.
- Long Title: Examples include "We Were Born the Mutants Again with Leafling", "Inside a Room Full of Treasures, a Black Pygmy Horse's Head Pops Up Like a Periscope", and "Upon Settling on the Frozen Island, Lecithin Presents Claude and Coquelicot With His Animal Creations for Them to Approve or Reject (The Rejected Inventions Walk Towards the Reverse Magnetizer)"
- Lyrical Dissonance: Hissing Fauna features quite upbeat pop songs set to lyrics centered on depression and suicide.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: And how.
- New Sound Album: Two, in fact: Satanic Panic in the Attic introduced their funkier and poppier sound, and Hissing Fauna introduced their trademark Lyrical Dissonance (paired with a much more theatrical stage show).
- Paralytic Stalks is their most experimental album to date.
- ...and then Lousy with Sylvianbriar marked ANOTHER change, this time to a live-in-the-studio sound recalling the earliest albums.
- Production Foreshadowing: The Hissing Fauna track "Faberge Falls For Shuggie" ends with the chant "Skeletal lamping, the controller sphere, false priest", which turned out to be the titles of the next three releases.
- Refuge in Audacity: At least one show in the 2010 tour featured Kevin Barnes grinding with a woman in a pig suit and faking an orgasm while a man in a similar pig suit looks on in shock and horror, at which point Barnes declares he needs "sexual healing", tackles him, and then air-humps and teabags him.
- Repurposed Pop Song: See Breakaway Pop Hit.
- Revisiting the Roots: Lousy with Sylvianbriar is generally viewed as this, as it marked a return to Kevin Barnes recording with a full band in the studio.
- Aldhils Arboretum could be seen as this as well: a collecting of stand-alone indie rock tracks after several concept albums of... inexact genre.
- Sanity Slippage Song: "The Past is a Grotesque Animal"
- "Sesame Street" Cred: The group has appeared on Yo Gabba Gabba!.
- Take That, Critics!: "There is Nothing Wrong With Hating Rock Critics", obviously.
- Title Drop: "Labyrinthian Pomp" features the line "Let's just say / You are not the destroyer".
- The immediately preceding song names their next three major releases, albeit out of order: "Skeletal Lamping / The Controller Sphere / False Priest".
- Transgender: Barnes claims that his on-stage character Georgie Fruit has had many sex change surgeries in his time.
- Tsundere: The subject of "Our Riotous Defects".
- Unusual Euphemism: "Now that the parachute has opened, well / Don't it make you feel good?"
- Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Discussed in "She's A Rejecter". The speaker wants to pay another woman to hit the one who rejected him, but he knows he can't even do that.