‘Build A Problem’ and Dodie Clark’s musical self-discovery

‘Build A Problem’ and Dodie Clark’s musical self-discovery

When 26-year-old British singer-songwriter Dodie Clark announced the release of her debut album Build A Problem in October (through knitted letters she had been making on her YouTube channel), fans were naturally excited. However, many could not have anticipated the incredibly high standard of music to follow. Previously associated with up-beat, peppy songs like ‘Would You Be So Kind’, ‘In The Middle’ and ‘Absolutely Smitten’, it’s apparent that Clark, known as dodie, has distinguished Build A Problem from her prior work. Her debut album, released on 7 May after several delays, reflects a much needed and exciting maturing process. Though her music has always been defined by its interesting exploration of emotion and insightful lyrics, Build A Problem highlights the extent of her musical development as she truly begins to capture the essence of her style. 

Like any good album, Build A Problem is a complete experience that is enjoyable from start to finish. The order of the included songs is evidently well-considered, as the listener experiences the turbulence of Clark’s own emotions. Some clear favourites have emerged amongst fans, including ‘Hate Myself’ and ‘Cool Girl’. Though these tracks are up-beat, they engage with more complex musical motifs and themes, creating a song that is still interesting whilst catchy.

However, some of Clark’s true masterpieces within this album are the more subdued ‘I Kissed Someone (It Wasn’t You)’ and ‘Four Tequilas Down’. Interestingly, both of these songs encapsulate similar ideas of feeling empty and disillusioned whilst feeling pressure to explore romantic relationships. Clark is excellent at combining lighter melodic lines with deep and complex harmonies to form songs that gradually build and descend like musical whirlpools. ‘Special Girl’ has also proven a personal favourite from the album: like ‘Hate Myself’ and ‘Cool Girl’, it has a lively, syncopated guitar strumming pattern beneath a subtly sweet yet simultaneously twisted vocal melody. The incorporation of the clarinet also creates some additional soulful themes that only contribute to Clark’s unique sound.  

What is ultimately so enjoyable about Clark’s new album is this slight separation from her past Internet persona to a more mature analysis of her own feelings and identity.

I discovered Clark’s YouTube channels back in 2016 and grew to love her down-to-earth, ukulele-toting personality. She came across as immensely likeable, striking a balance between her bubbly aesthetic of sunflower yellow, cats and tea alongside her more sobering conversations about struggling with her mental health. What is ultimately so enjoyable about Clark’s new album is this slight separation from her past Internet persona to a more mature analysis of her own feelings and identity. This is apparent when simply analysing the different colour palettes used in her album art. Whereas previous EPs like You and Human revolve around charming pastel yellows, the cover for Build A Problem centres on more muted earth tones. 

Some of the core ideas in Build A Problem revolve around the notion of what ‘builds’ a person. Whilst Clark also engaged with this concept in her 2019 EP HumanBuild A Problem definitely extends and develops what often seems like her fluid train of thought in greater depth. In interviews, Clark has described music as “a form of therapy” and this sense of self-discovery is evident throughout Build A Problem, even if it is sometimes emotionally uncomfortable for the listener.

Clark has openly discussed her experiences with depersonalisation and ‘Before the Line’ engages with this almost surreal sense of detachment most effectively. This is partly due to the impressive use of strings that features across the album. Clark has discussed the process of writing for a full string section, and it is undeniable that it has had an intrinsically powerful effect on her music. The addition of purely instrumental interludes ‘?’ and ‘.’ are arguably slightly pretentious inclusions but do create a pleasant sense of separation within the emotional intensity of the album. These tracks also demonstrate the extent of Clark’s experimentation with harmony and orchestration. 

Clark has written an album that appeals to new listeners as well as her own loyal fan base.

One notable element of the album is the accompanying music and lyric videos. Each of the album’s twelve songs have a lyric video, directed by Jack Howard, that perfectly encapsulates the mood of the song, and more complex music videos have been created for ‘Hate Myself’, ‘Cool Girl’ and ‘I Kissed Someone (It Wasn’t You)’.  These act as a pleasant addition to the already engaging music and definitely create an interesting listening experience. What truly distinguishes this album from Clark’s prior work is the way she utilises instrumentation and harmony to embrace her traditionally softer vocals. It’s a style of composition that in many ways would lend itself to an indie film score and the accompanying music videos truly illustrate this.

To quote Jon Pareles, “Dodie’s songs radiate transparency” and Build A Problem encapsulates this idea. From more up-beat songs to dramatically orchestrated lilting tracks, Clark has written an album that appeals to new listeners as well as her own loyal fan base. Having started out on social media at such a young age, Clark is used to being open with her audience through both her videos and music. However, Build A Problem reflects a new age for the artist as her musical exploration enters a period of greater musical and emotional maturity. One can only be excited for the new music that Clark may produce in the coming years.  

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Charlotte Grimwade

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