Dodie’s Debut Album, “Build A Problem,” Deserves An Hour Of Your Time


Brooklyn Chillemi

An hour before I was lucky enough to hear Dodie live in a concert, colorful pieces of paper were passed down the excitedly chattering line by a couple of fans. During “Rainbow,” we placed the papers on our phones and turned on our flashlights to create a rainbow of lights in the audience to match the lights on stage.

Brooklyn Chillemi, Editor

The following article includes music containing explicit content. 

If you listen to the entirety of Dorothy Clark’s debut album “Build A Problem” without stopping, it will take you exactly 59 minutes and 57 seconds. 

I implore you to lie on your bedroom floor with a box of tissues while you do so. 

However, be warned – do not press that shuffle button. This is an album you must listen to in order the first time you hear it.

The album begins with 12 main songs, along with two bonus songs, and eight demo songs in addition to that – all of which are best when listened to in the order listed on the album. 

Why? Because the special part is that after “Rainbow,” the sixth song on the album, each song begins to merge together, like one big symphony, until the album closes with the bonus and demo tracks. The beginning of each song begins with the end of the previous one, flowing together with a 13-piece string section. 

This isn’t original to Clark, who is better known as Dodie – this style has been used by a variety of progressive-rock musicians in the past. Nonetheless, I love how Dodie intertwines this aspect with her amazing storytelling skills.

The New York Times recently featured Dodie and highlighted her honesty as well: “Dodie’s songs radiate transparency,” writes Jon Pareles, chief popular music critic at the New York Times. “They’re usually built on plucked, syncopated patterns from her guitar or ukulele, threaded through with melodies that she sings barely above a whisper, often confiding her vulnerabilities.” 

Be sure to listen to the entire album before proceeding. 



“Air So Sweet”


The shortest song on the album is the first, and it is a beautiful lead-in. It only has one verse, and it ends with multiple layers of Dodie singing in harmony with herself: “Oh, this is what I’m living for.” 

In the original demo of the song posted on her YouTube channel, Dodie said that she was “feeling weird” about music for a while before doing a recording session with fellow musician Jacob Collier – but after that session, she was “so happy” that she ran to her neighbor (who is also a musician) Orla Gartland’s house to tell her about the experience. 

“I was wearing shoes,” Dodie said in the video, which contradicts the song lyrics – “I run barefoot, shoes at the door.” 

“But I liked the idea of not wearing shoes because that’s what it felt like,” she said. “I felt so grounded for once.” 


“Hate Myself”


“Hate Myself” starts unexpectedly in comparison to other songs by Dodie, because it begins with only her voice just a few beats before the instruments enter. 

And with this off-putting beat change, everything feels strange throughout the rest of the song. The shakers, muted ukulele strumming, and recorded laughter in the background just sound so peppy in comparison to the lyrics, which are full of self-doubt and anxiety. 

That juxtaposition, to me, is what makes this piece so vulnerable – it’s not really upbeat, but it’s her racing thoughts. As everything builds in the bridge, it’s her thoughts filling in the silence. 

This song will easily worm its way into your brain and get stuck there. 


“I Kissed Someone (It Wasn’t You)”


If “Boys Like You” – a bonus track on this album that we’ll get to later – is the angry part of a breakup, this is the desperate low. 

In a Q&A about the music video with director Hazel Hayes, Dodie described the feeling of the song as being “in the stage where you’re not really over it – you’re not really looking to be over it – but you’re in denial about that.” 

Breakup or not, this is the perfect song to listen to while staring out the car window on a long drive. 


“Cool Girl”


Dodie’s ability to mix pop-sounding music with indie-depth lyrics gives her music a reach to a wide audience, and believe it or not, this song was written entirely in quarantine, with the strings of the piece recorded over Zoom. 

“It’s more upbeat and poppy and talks about the suppression of one’s needs in order to be lovable,” Dodie said on the Apple Music release of “Build A Problem.”

“Cool Girl” was based on one of Dodie’s favorite films, “Gone Girl,” especially focusing on the famous monologue from the movie’s main character, Amy Dunne, played by Rosamund Pike. 


“Special Girl” 


While the theme of “Cool Girl” is forcing yourself into fitting the mold, “Special Girl” is about forcing the mold to fit you. Confidence radiates off the lyric video, with multiple pairs of funky glasses, confetti, and balloons all packed into a sunny car ride. 

The outro nearly becomes a round, with the line “I’m a special girl” being said 17 times, accompanied by strange laughter and a “hot mess” of noise, as described by Dodie. “And that’s exactly what I am in the song,” she said. 

Despite the chaos, “Special Girl” is about accepting yourself and all of your flaws. And oddly enough, “I didn’t realize I’d written two songs called ‘Cool Girl’ and ‘Special Girl’ until I was listening to them together,” Dodie said




I was lucky enough to hear this song live in a concert from Dodie – pre-COVID, of course. 

It was a magical experience. You could feel the shivers in the room as everyone stood with bated breath, holding their phones and swaying lightly. 

Dodie wrote this song to share her experiences as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and the shame she felt with being unsure about herself. But the meaning truly extends beyond that – not only is this an anthem for those feeling ashamed because of their sexual orientation or gender, but it is also a soundtrack for outsiders everywhere. 



Now, I know what you’re thinking: “This song is called… ‘?’?” 

And if you happened to glance down a bit, you might also be thinking, “Huh, we also have a song called ‘.’,” which looks a little strange when written. 

But this song, as well as “.”, requires no name.

In fact, neither song even requires words. They’re vague, and intentionally left up to interpretation.

The only consistent aspect of this song is a rumbling feeling – the feeling of an unanswered question. Just feeling lost.

Think of it as a small interlude. 


“Four Tequilas Down” 


“Four Tequilas Down” represents the brash decisions made in a moment of being lost. 

“I wanted desperately to alleviate some of the guilt I felt to my audience, who might see me as this perfect angel,” Dodie said. “I’m not.”

“I don’t know who I am anymore,” the song admits quietly during the intro. And it’s true, and that’s a struggle that everyone can relate to as they grow up. 

And as the lyrics during the bridge self-soothe, with “something in me says that this is okay” being repeated over and over, the realization that “I know this isn’t right” is hard-hitting. 




A pause. 

This is the moment of self-reflection after the confusing storm of choices that was “Four Tequilas Down.”

Unlike “?”, this song has no humming at all. It focuses on strings only, which creates a tension that describes how difficult learning from your choices is. 



 Dodie has often been open about mental health and therapy on her YouTube channel as well as her other platforms, and there is no exception when she speaks about this song. 

“In therapy, I’ve cried so much I’ve wanted to vomit, and I wanted to express how that feels,” Dodie said. “This track has all this swirling, then it naturally settles. It truly is my favorite moment. It’s like something’s cleared. You’re ready to start again.”

After the realization in “.”, “Sorry” is an ode to apologies and rebuilding. 




“When” has been my anthem during my college search as a high school junior. Originally posted in 2016 on Dodie’s YouTube channel, it has been with me even when I moved from Colorado to Oregon five years ago. The song puts a soundtrack to the feeling of wanting to live in the past while also worrying about the future. 

This is by far my favorite song on the album – especially the lyric, “Oh it’ll be over, and I’ll still be asking when.” It’s full of regret, and it’s beautifully cold at the end when it is only Dodie’s voice, alone. 

What is also powerful is how this song affected Dodie herself. “When I was writing the song, I was just starting to feel quite spacey and out of it, and that was the beginning of a mental health condition I now know the name of,” Dodie said. Since then, she has been diagnosed with depersonalisation-derealization disorder, which can leave people feeling spaced out and disconnected. 


“Before the Line”


Musically, “Before the Line” is the most intriguing song on this album because it has snippets of every other song on the album in it. 

“This track is me really letting it all go and looking at my brain the way I do when I’m at my worst,” Dodie said. “I think it’s the angriest song I’ve written,” which may come as a surprise to her audience because the song itself does not sound angry until you truly focus on the lyrics. 

When I think of anger, typically, heavy metal comes to mind. But the emotion in “Before the Line” is bubbling like a volcano. It is an anger that bleeds. That is so much more powerful. 


“Guiltless” (Bonus Track) 


While Dodie is often very open about what brings her to create her music, she said that “‘Guiltless’ is about a difficult topic that I could never talk about publicly. There are those complex relationships in life where there’s so much love, but so much anger, disbelief, guilt, expectation, and resentment. This is a song exploring that, from a safe, vague-ish distance.”

Even if we as listeners don’t know what specifically brought Dodie to write this song, I love the layering and buildup in the outro of the song. There’s a combination of rhythm, snapping, humming, and spoken lines that really encapsulate an almost bittersweet feeling of moving on. 


“Boys Like You” (Bonus Track) 


This song is the most listened to on the album, with over 12 million plays on Spotify. Each of those millions of plays is well deserved.

“Boys Like You” is one of the pop-iest songs on the album, and it is top notch post-breakup song material.

Play it loud. Scream along with the words. 



Remember those tissues? You’re going to need another box before you head into the demos section of the album. 

“Everyone needed a project in lockdown, and it was good for my brain to have something to do every day,” Dodie said about the eight demo songs on the B-side of the album. “It’s just me in my room, making mistakes.”

Each demo song has a grainy sound effect overlayed, and often only features Dodie’s voice and a couple of instruments. Often unpolished, it strips the music back to how it sounds when Dodie originally releases her songs on YouTube.



Now, you can get up from your bedroom floor. Toss your small pile of tissues into the trash bin. 

And go ahead and play the album again. This time, you’re allowed to press shuffle.