Dodie is vulnerable, honest on debut album ‘Build a Problem’ 

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

Having spent more than 10 years creating videos on YouTube, Dodie Clark has captured viewers’ hearts with her poignant songwriting and candid self-reflections on life, love and growing older. 

With close to 2 million subscribers on her main YouTube channel and multiple EPs in her discography, the 26-year-old artist has demonstrated consistency in capturing the joys and pitfalls of adulthood. Dodie’s debut studio album, Build a Problem, is no different in this regard. Released May 7, Build a Problem emphasizes Dodie’s refined ability to capture the essence of heart-wrenching moments within her poetic lyrics. 

The opening track of Build a Problem, “Air So Sweet,” begins the album’s trek into emotional exploration and self-reflection. Dodie’s light, ethereal vocals reverberate with joyous wonder as she recounts glimpses of euphoric memories. In only one minute, the artist relieves listeners of their qualms, enchanting them with gorgeous harmonies and simple lyrics reminiscent of moments in which one recognizes the exhilaration of life. 

“Hate Myself” interrupts this nostalgic joy, bringing forth the complexity of the present. With upbeat ukulele strums, Dodie encapsulates feelings of insecurity and the pressures of weighing self-worth within social interactions. Utilizing peppy instrumentation, the musician masks the darkness of the lyricism commonly intertwined throughout her discography. 

Grappling with the pressures of identity, Dodie’s “Cool Girl” similarly balances catchy instrumentation with complex lyrics that permeate the track with melancholy. The chorus asserts questions regarding the formation of the singer’s identity: “Cool girl will be different/ I’ll be quiet, oh so easy.” By taking on this role and rejecting pieces of herself, the song explores the raw feelings of isolation that accompany the destruction of identity. 

The following track, “Special Girl,” continues these musings of identity and embraces a confidence that, once again, disguises the complex themes of the record. Through this track, Dodie seems to vulnerably embrace moments that have shaped her sense of self. The first few lyrics of the song particularly exemplify this understanding of identity: “It’s not my fault/ I was raised by open mouths and teary eyes.” Yet, with whimsical clarinet interludes, the song is quirky and cheerful despite its contemplative lyrics. 

Build a Problem breaks up Dodie’s thought provoking lyricism with mellow, soothing instrumental tracks. The instrumental interlude entitled “?” entrances listeners with haunting hums and tense instrumentation that lead to the album’s darker tracks. “.” is both dreamy and reflective in its simplicity. String arrangements elevate the elegance of the track, calming viewers before the artist explores further introspection. 

“Sorry” devastatingly depicts guilt and a longing to change the past. As Dodie’s voice floods with remorse, the song’s instrumentation builds and angelically highlights her painfully moving lyrics: “And oh, didn’t want to believe such a monster in me/ And I know, I’ve always known, in the end I’d be sorry.” This track is arguably one of Dodie’s best; it is both grand in its execution and intimate in its self-reflection and vulnerability. 

“When” and “Before the Line” continue to represent these themes of isolation and regret through building upon specific memories and emotions. “When” specifically bridges the brightness of past memories with somber emotions in the present moment. “Before the Line” seems to continue this narrative, reflecting a longing for the past, given the frustration of the present. Unlike the optimism of “Air So Sweet,” Dodie highlights feelings of discouragement as she continuously repeats,“I’ll have to take what I can get.” This intensity and honesty reveals the ability of Dodie’s lyrics and instrumentation to evoke emotions that culminate from the problems that build around individuals, something that the entirety of the album demonstrates.

Dodie’s growth as a musician has been incredibly inspiring during her 10 years on YouTube. Build a Problem serves as a representation of this growth, emphasizing the artist’s renowned skill in crafting songs that represent vulnerable feelings in honest ways — a feat that, for her first studio album, should be wholeheartedly praised. 

Contact Sarah Runyan at [email protected].