To describe dodie feels impossible as her music is so utterly her. Crafted over her 10 year YouTube presence and nurtured in a fan base entirely invested in her, her life and her vision, dodie’s music feels separate from the current landscape. Instead falling into the lineage of classic female confessional songwriters like Joni Mitchell, dodie gives us pages out of her diary. Neatly packaged with an astoundingly clear voice for a debut, 'Build A Problem' is a storm of emotions inside a tight and perfected teacup.
While creative projects from YouTubers that stray outside their platform are often met with shrugs and reluctance, 'Build A Problem' is worthy of a bigger audience, displaying a level of musicality that can’t be truly appreciated on a site with so many ads. Underpinned with rare and unique rhythms and filled with choral harmonies from the church of Florence and the Machine, creating a heavy atmosphere without seeming to even lift a finger; dodie has an undeniable ear for making magic.
Take a scroll back on her YouTube and you’ll find minute-long moments of heaven made in her bedroom and thrown onto her second channel, and while her online presence and previous releases were proof of talent, 'Build A Problem' elevates her artistry in a way that’s flooring. Featuring two instrumental interludes, the album saw dodie apply her ear for harmonies to composing for orchestras, resulting in instrumentation that seems to weave in and out, almost indistinguishable from the symphony of her vocals. Lifting the sound to gospel heights, Sorry is a real stand out track, combining her candid lyrics with a more mature and bolder sound that meets in the middle of theatricality and classic ballads.
The lyrical content and sound of the album are at odds in the best way. While the sound is controlled and intentional, conducted to flow through its various highs and lows without ever drowning out dodie’s soft vocal, the lyrics are free to roam. On 'Build A Problem', dodie seems to touch on almost every emotion a 20 something can feel. Juggling subjects of love, loss, mental health, growing up and misbehaving, she traces the lengths and depths of human emotion without falling into cliché.
Always managing to find cruxes in common experiences, tracks like 'I Kissed Someone (It Wasn’t You)', offer a painstakingly realistic view of feeling, a snapshot of an exact point in the heartbreak arch we’ve all felt, mourning in the back of a taxi. In a way that Joni Mitchell’s 'Blue' is essential listening to soundtrack the end of love, 'Build A Problem' feels like it should join the ranks, the kind of album girls everywhere will hold tight to as they go through the emotions.
And it’s a beautifully wrapped package to hold. Opening up with 'Air So Sweet', a melodic prologue built almost entirely from dodie’s signature humming harmonies, the record has a clean-cut path through interludes and into its orchestral finale. Accompanied by a series of narrative lyric videos that capture our 20s in their rawest, 'Build A Problem' is concise in its form to let the explosion of emotion never feel exhausting; a considered decision shown in the second disc appendix of demos which are essential listens to the record. Offering a rougher and readier sound, the demos simultaneously nod to her bedroom recording origin while showing massive growth with 'In The Bed' and 'All My Daughters' standing out.
It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what makes this album feel so special. Maybe it’s the lack of answers as dodie seems to go through the motions of these feelings with each play and pause, offering no wisdom or lessons, just perfect articulations of exact emotions. With all tracks sharing a sense of immediacy, 'Build A Problem' seems to hold the present emotion of everlasting questions. It asks ‘How do I make them love me?’, ‘Will I ever feel satisfied?’, ‘Do they miss me?’, and find the words to articulate how it feels to yearn for the answers, rather than offering them.
Tinged with vulnerability from start to finish, this album feels like a unique product of a unique path. As a culmination of a decade of sharing her feelings with a crowd of over a million subscribers, dodie has always been releasing music to a captive audience, uploading original songs to a channel populated with people that are interested in her and her life. Following her through her struggles with derealisation disorder and depression, amongst the various ups and downs of relationships, parental divorces and moving towns, dodie fans feel like they know her, and this album makes it seem like she knows you too, letting you be privy to her deepest feelings in the trust that you’ll understand. And we do.
Unmistakably hers, dodie’s debut is wholly realised and polished in its sound. A beautiful vessel for messy emotions, 'Build A Problem' is a tour of the highs and lows of living and loving in your teens, twenties and probably beyond; raw, full of questions and yet celebratory as it revels in its big emotions.
Words: Lucy Harbron
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