Just a little over ten years ago, English singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Dorothy Clark, known mononymously as Dodie (stylized all lowercase as “dodie”), posted her first original song on a promising new platform called YouTube. Today she boasts over 2.8 million subscribers and 400 million views between her two Youtube channels, doddleoddle and doddlevloggle, three EPs and now a full studio album.
“Build a Problem,” released on Friday, May 7, experienced a few release pushbacks, mostly due to COVID-19 travel restrictions hindering an official physical release. Though the final mixes of the tracks were completed by the end of 2020, bureaucratic roadblocks prevented Dodie from releasing the album in its entirety until recently. The four singles released before Friday — “Cool Girl,” “Rainbow,” “Hate Myself” and “I Kissed Someone (It Wasn’t You),” in chronological order — provided constant buzz for the unreleased content.
Dodie seems at her most mature in these songs, perhaps as someone who has seen much more of life than her previous iterations. A razor-sharp intentionality cuts through every track on the album; there isn’t a wasted moment, lyric or note to be found anywhere. In the style of all good writing, Dodie’s lyrics are concise and not overly sesquipedalian (that is, she doesn’t use a lot of words to over-explain the meanings behind the messages in her songs, or use a bombastic, polysyllabic lexicon). She always seems to find the perfect phrasing for a certain sentiment, delivering it just above a whisper and letting it hit like a pickup truck with its subtextual power. Some of my favorites include “I kissed someone because it’s fair” (in regards to a post-breakup hook-up) and “heartbreak only means that it was worth it.”
Instrumentally, the album demonstrates both classic-Dodie and mature-Dodie flavors: most of the tracks start with a single guitar or guitar-uke pattern, but blossom into full string orchestration or choral splendor. The recurrent clarinet also straddles this line, being both Dodie’s childhood instrument and a distinctly new voice which fits surprisingly well into her sound. Though the album is fundamentally just these few sounds — voice, guitar, strings, percussion and occasional keys — it builds outstanding and novel styles from them. “Special Girl” is upbeat and heavy on body-percussion, with an almost George Michael-esque groove. “Sorry” begins as a quiet waltz, but blossoms into a symphonic soundscape you could pick right out of a Hans Zimmer soundtrack. Through the latter half, still new ideas emerge: “bored like me (demo)” features a tango chord progression with tropical ornamentation, and “anything (demo)” is a classic Dodie treatise on love and optimism.
All good albums (at least, to my taste) have some design, and “Build a Problem” is no exception. The tracks are divided into the main album and a collection of demos under the title “alosia,” an acronym for “a lot of songs in April.” Overall, these demos are quite charming, showing Dodie’s talent for making music that feels personal in its imperfection and professional in its content. The new songs, however, are where the design really shines. Beginning with “Rainbow” and ending with “When,” Dodie outlines a potent musical narrative of sexuality, infidelity and regret. Seamless musical transition, aided by the “?” and “.” interludes, provides thematic cohesion and the troubling sense that the music is a real-time interpretation of the scenes it describes. Doubt, decision and irreversibility: these are the feelings illustrated by this sequence, culminating in the re-release of “When” from her first EP “Intertwined.” Now with a full string section and a few years of reflection behind it, “When” reaches its full potential as a deeply moving tribute to a painful realization: the past is gone, and life doesn’t wait for you.
Personally, I’m very happy to hear this sound from Dodie, who has been very vocal about her pride in this work, and rightfully so. “Build a Problem” defines obscure sorrows with a quiet but powerful voice, speaking deeply to Dodie’s personal experience and her profound musical talent. I maintain that she would be an excellent film composer (see the end of this video), but for now it’s amazing just to see her expanding as a musician, as a person and as an indie/folk/pop star.