It’s honestly tiring to mention the pandemic as often as I am in every review I’m writing but the truth is that it does affect my experience with any piece of media. While I do think Dodie’s debut album is a stunning, cohesive body of work, I don’t think I will be listening to it again any time soon. This goes for any piece of media, it’s enjoyment really does matter on the state of mind the viewer is in. For the past year, there have been some big highs and extreme lows, the latter of which lasted far longer. It really does feel like something you’d see from an A24 film, sad, haunting but gorgeous at the same time. In fact, I would go so far as to say that ‘Build a Problem’ is the album which has felt the most like a film to me, ever. I don’t know about you, but there is a certain group of emotions attached to different experiences for me. When I watch a movie, it’s different from listening to an album or reading a book but when listening to this album, I could’ve sworn I was watching a film. A film about a woman who breaks herself apart to truly examine herself.
It’s actually quite interesting to me because when Taylor Swift released ‘folkore’ and ‘evermore‘, both equally depressing albums, I was in a different state of mind listening to them. ‘Folklore’ came at a time where I was at an all-time low and it took me a while to really appreciate and adore the album. ‘Evermore’ came at a happier time in my life but shortly after it got back to being low. As time passed on this year, I felt like it was actually necessary to treat myself by listening to uplifting, positive music. Sure, I still listen to a shit ton of Taylor Swift but you won’t catch me playing ‘champagne problems’ or ‘my tears ricochet’ any time soon. That being said, ‘Build a Problem’ is a different type of sad. While Swift’s albums mainly revolve around romantic tragedy, Dodie’s debut album is grounded in reality with songs that anyone can relate to. Songs like ‘Hate Myself’, ‘Rainbow’ and ‘Guiltless‘ affected me the most because she describes feelings I have felt quite intensely before. Feelings that I know I will feel again. There’s a very timeless quality to the story that’s she’s writing here, I can definitely see myself rediscovering this album when I need it the most and it could change my entire perspective on it.
That being said, while there are songs on the album which stand out to me more purely because of the lyrical content, ‘Build a Problem’ feels immersive and cinematic all the way through. Every lyric she sings is a clear picture playing in my mind. I wanted to watch the lyric videos for a better understanding of the songs but I decided not to because I wanted to preserve my own images attached to them. Watching ‘Normal People’ probably helped a ton to visualize this album though. The stings, oh my god, the strings. So beautifully haunting. There is such a cold nature to those interludes, specifically ‘.’ which feels like the sudden realization a person has when they’ve done something irreparable. It really lets the viewer decide for themselves which way the story is going in. There may be no lyrics but the interludes say a lot, they’re crucial in fact. They heighten the emotion in every song they’re in. When they return soaring in ‘Sorry‘, it changes a song I wasn’t necessarily a big fan of to a standout. In fact, the entire section from ‘Rainbow‘ to ‘When‘ where it’s all connected with the satisfying transitions is easily my favourite part of the album. It genuinely blew me away listening to that first time and putting a heart next to all of them on Spotify. It’s incredibly rare for me to do that.
Despite this being called ‘Build a Problem‘, it would’ve easily worked if it were self-titled. That being said this isn’t necessarily where Dodie is at now. It feels like an amalgamation of everything she’s experienced in her life into one big diary entry. I obviously don’t Dodie at all but I feel like this IS Dodie. Her insecurities, hopes, dreams and epiphanies all rolled into one. This album feels so raw, fragile and precious that I can’t help but think that it’s essentially an extension of herself. This could be purely my theory but I even felt like the album started out with muted vocals and as the album progressed, Dodie’s vocals become clearer and brighter. She gets progressively passionate as the album goes by, that is until the finale. ‘Before the Line‘ is a very interesting track to me. It feels exactly like an A24 ending, it’s ambiguous but not to the point where you don’t realize that it’s not a happy ending. To me, ‘Before the Line’ represents the bittersweet acceptance that comes with living the life that you do. Accepting the forces you cannot control, the conditions you cannot change. To me, it even connects to ‘When‘ because of that question, ‘when will things get better?’ or ‘when will something change?’ It’s these naive and hopeful questions that lead back to ‘Before the Line‘ where you accept that this is your life and you have to live with the bad just as much as you have to live with the good. It’s a line we have to walk every day and try not to lean on the bad side as much as possible. At least that’s my interpretation.
Writing this review helped me appreciate this album a lot more and being completely honest, I listened to the album a second time while writing this review rendering the first two paragraphs completely useless but that’s the power of writing I guess! Overall, ‘Build a Problem‘ is an incredibly cinematic story with tons of fragility and raw emotion. The imagery and vulnerability make for a painfully relatable story. It sounds fresh and unique, there is nothing quite like it right now. Highly recommend listening to this with a glass of wine (coming from someone who never tasted a sip of but it feels appropriate) and chilling on the couch. Get a box of tissues too!
Ranking of Songs:
1. Hate Myself
3. I Kissed Someone (It Wasn’t You)
4. Cool Girl
5. Boys Like You (Bonus)
6. Four Tequilas Down
7. Guiltless (Bonus)
10. Air So Sweet
13. Before the Line
14. Special Girl
Dodie’s ‘Build a Problem’ is available to stream and own right now.