Music at Mars Hill is a weekly column by Luke Larsen that seeks to find God amidst the newest trends in both mainstream music and independent music.

Future of Forestry has always been promising new direction for Christian music. Not that it was a new worship methodology or a bold new genre. It wasn’t even that Future of Forestry was a pioneering new sound or lyrical style in Christian music. It was more of a promise that the band—more specifically, multi-instrumentalist Eric Owyoung—would always be an artist that felt like a real person who was making earnest music that he himself enjoyed. No more pandering to fit into certain genres or record labels—just honesty.

You could hear it in the different instrumentation he used in his Travel EPs, in the rough-around-the-edges production, and even in the unorthodox release time frame that Owyoung seemed to worked in (it took him five years to follow up his debut LP with a proper full-length). It wasn’t that FOF didn’t want to fit into a particular genre or subculture in some kind of rebellious Derek Webb-style fashion though. Sometimes it fit and sometimes it didn’t—either way, it was just honest. His music took snapshots of where he was at the moment—emotionally, musically, in his relationship with God, and in his understanding of his place in the industry.

But the long-awaited new album, Young Man Follow, changes that “I want to make good music regardless of what people think” philosophy and trades it for something else entirely. On FOF’s Web site, Owyoung wrote the following excerpt to introduce the album:

To be honest, with past albums, I could say I did not care about what people thought of them. I feel differently about this one. I wrote these songs for YOU, the fans, the people who feed off music to survive, those who search the abyss of internet audio waves for something beautiful and meaningful. It  may seem like an obviously good idea that an artist would write songs for the listener, but this is not always the case. Sometimes we write music for the experiment. Sometimes we write because we have to get something off of our chest or to express the deep and dark ails of our hearts. But this album was different. I wanted to write songs that brought beauty and warmth into someones thoughts and life. I kept reminding myself “for the people” as I wrote.

This was a disheartening thing for me to hear, even before having heard the album. After all, it was FOF’s sense of reckless abandon that attracted me to their music in the first place. But after spending a lot of time with the album, I’ve come to find that Young Man Follow is more clean-shaven kind of album than the Travel series was. Stylistically, its music that’s no longer just on its way somewhere, but it actually feels as though it’s arrived somewhere. But the question is: Where has FOF been heading on this time?

There’s no doubt that Young Man Follow does forgo some of that unabashed expression in its desire to be a “record for fans”—both musically and lyrically. It’s less daring in its instrumentation, less experimental in its mixes, and more ordinary in song structure than ever before. Even the softer, more eloquent songs like “As It Was” and “You” sound decidedly more accessible and radio-friendly than songs off Twilight or the Travel series.

However, that doesn’t make Young Man Follow any less of a great record. It’s grand in size, opening with a show-closing epic that would make Bono and Chris Martin blush. But with effortless songs like “Someone” and “Chariots,” I could tell FOF feels totally comfortable making music that sounds like it’s taking on the whole world one anthem after another. Because for all the project’s experimentation and eclecticism, it’s FOF’s new universal scope—a focus on their audience rather themselves—that has thrust them toward the stars. And if Young Man Follow is any indication, it’s clear that’s where they have belonged all along.