The world is a dark place, and Larissa Lam recognizes this. Instead of sinking into despair about it, singer/songwriter Lam finds a way to turn this sorrow into inspiration. While her relationship with God is a predominate theme throughout On the Way Up, she focuses on her personal thoughts and feelings. Although some of it tends to fall into preaching, Lam only does so as a reflection of her own beliefs.
Lam’s voice is soulful and emotive and keeps the album compelling and is the most powerful element of On the Way Up. These songs obviously deeply personal to Lam, and she’s invested all of herself into them. From the sorrowful “On This Road” to the joyful “Messenger” she transcends the expectations of listeners, turning the plaintive cry of “No one loves me” into hope when she adds “like you do” on the opening track “The Universe”.
Sadly, though, On the Way Up is hampered by overly sentimental production. There is something a bit manipulative about the structure of these songs, as if there was uncertainty if Lam’s voice could carry the album without much else to back it. The dramatic synthesizers of “Maybe” nearly ruin the tenderness of the song, giving it something of a disingenuous feeling to it. The heavy-handedness is present faux-pop of “Clothe Me” with its staged guitars and generic drum loop. Lam probably didn’t intend for this to be the case, but it is unfortunate that the sincerity of her vocals is often at odds with the slightly calculated production.
Lam’s lyrics do tend to help her rise above the flaws that are present here. She has found some answers but is still seeking others, and she works through her personal conflicts over her personal conflicts in her life. “All I know is someone had to pay the price / For the mistakes in my life” she sings sadly on “Unraveling”. Lam doesn’t ignore the joy that is constantly present around her, though, and she celebrates her faith with lines like “I can do anything through Him who strengthens me” on “I Can Do Anything”.
Larissa Lam’s On the Way Up is an album with no small measure of depth and beauty, for the mistakes that are made here. Although it would have been preferable for these songs to be more straightforward, Lam wants to bring inspiration and hope to the world, and it’s almost impossible to not enjoy her on that level.