“Doesn’t it hurt to be/The one they always point and laugh about?” Jacob Sigman asks on the first line of his new record, Why Do I Die in My Dreams, a surprisingly uplifting body of work considering the intro. In six songs, the Detroit-based pop artist and producer unpacks the last year of his life, which was framed by themes of mortality, aging and nostalgia – you know, all the fun stuff. But Sigman packages these heavy reflections in satisfying melodies and bubbly production that leaves the listener feeling comforted instead of morose.
“I think I’m always trying to be hooky and have [the music] feel good to listen to even if it’s sad,” says Sigman. “I try to say something profound but in a way that will make people want to listen to it again.” He does that well on “When We Were Still Young,” a track that longs for simpler times – something that felt extra prescient in the days of lockdown. He compares the innocent, blind belief of childhood to the existential crisis most 20-somethings experience: “Back when I was seven/I believed in heaven/Hell and everything in between/Now I’m twenty-five living just to stay alive/And I don’t even know what it means.” Ditto, honestly.
But instead of giving us a reason to sulk, Sigman reminds us that it’s not that serious. The chorus brings a wave of positivity that washes over the preceding feelings of doom as he self-soothes with major chords and calming mantras – “What’s within the shadow of a doubt?/Shine a little light and we’ll figure it out/Lately we’ve been coming around.” It’s a refreshing and comforting response to the listlessness we all feel from time to time, without feeling too much like that self-help book your mom gave you after your last breakup.
Sigman shifts from internal panic to reacting to his environment on the EP’s title track. He explains how the feeling of being surrounded by death on a daily basis caused him to grapple with his own sense of mortality. “It’s one of those things that oftentimes would come into my head and I would just quickly move onto the next thing because I don’t want to think about it,” he says. “But this year, there was no avoiding it.” The song explores his own subconscious fears about death and losing loved ones. Again, he finds words to comfort himself and others through the uncertainty, repeating: “I won’t let darkness take you/I’ll hold you ‘till you wake/Nobody leaves forever/At least that’s what they say.”
That’s the note that Sigman leaves us on with this project, undoubtedly a time capsule of being unexpectedly stuck in his 700-square-foot apartment (with a roommate), forced to figure out how to process the world around him and coming away with feelings of loss, hope, nostalgia, longing and peace. The vulnerability is palpable in his lyrics and his willingness to admit universal truths that a lot of people tend to shy away from. And doing this without falling into the quicksand of despair is his gift to his fans and himself. “Music has always been a really powerful creative outlet,” says Sigman. “But I don’t think it’s ever been quite as powerful as it was last year making some of those songs.”