Mike Lawrence peruses pop culture the way a vegan peruses a fast-food menu: with vigilance bordering on insanity. His debut, digital-only album deconstructs Batman for a solid six minutes, labeling the caped crusader as the ultimate Republican superhero and giving Lawrence a chance to finally (and this will be a come-to-Jesus moment for just about everyone) identify exactly why Christian Bale’s voice from the Christopher Nolan films sounds so familiar. He’s clearly thought a lot about this, and he wraps personal revelations around similar cultural epiphanies. It’s sad that Lawrence never got to meet his grandfather, he says, and as a result was forced to read The Princess Bride to himself. Or, purging white guilt, he watches MLK’s “I Have A Dream” speech on YouTube and notices something off about the number of “dislikes” that video has received, in that it has any at all.
Many of Lawrence’s jokes follow this formula—couching stories about an absentee father and all-too-present childhood bullies in comparisons to his beloved pop touchstones. This makes the sting more palatable, shoving the pain behind his inherent playfulness. He resents being raised in Florida, but defends this feeling by making light of its lazily named basketball team, the Miami Heat. (“We surveyed 100 bothered Jews and asked them what they hate the most about this place, and we didn’t want to go with their No. 1 answer: the Cubans.”) One of the most emotionally resonant moments of the album comes near the beginning, when he experiences a very special kind of shame after being mocked for resembling Sloth from The Goonies; he had to go home and watch the movie for the first time, so he could more fully understand the torments.
Lawrence has suffered enough, and Sadamantium is a way to build himself back up, Star Wars reference by Star Wars reference, into a ginger-bearded, clairvoyant savant (with the self-identified face of a rapist and the self-esteem of one of his victims). Lawrence is clearly eager to do the hard work, and there are moments on Sadamantium that fly by too quickly to resonate—like when he talks about jumping in a bouncy castle at his birthday party alone because nobody showed up. This is the shortest bit on the album, a screeching halt of a visual, rolled through like a parking-lot stop sign. But still, Lawrence jumps. Self-doubt is heavy, but pop culture lightens the load, and acts as a to Sadamantium’s heart.