REVIEW: Dodie – Build A Problem

Do you like Disney songs? I don’t. So it was a little problematic to me that the songs ‘Rainbow’ and ‘Sorry’, on my first few listens, made me think of the dramatic moment at the end of an animated movie, some princess on a balcony singing to her loyal subjects, letting us know what she had learnt during the hour and a half running time and her experiences with Prince Charming/A Hairy Monster/A Green Bog Dweller. There’d I be, enjoying the unusual blend of folk and pop, the quirky stylings of Dodie as an artist, when one of these dramatic show stoppers would show its face. It was a little jarring. I’d be getting totally sucked in by an exciting debut album, and then I’d feel a little like I shouldn’t be enjoying it as much as I was.

Over time, I’ve come to feel that Dodie takes on so many influences on this album that it is unsurprising to see that there are songs I didn’t gel with immediately. In ‘Boys Like You’, one of the bonus songs at the end of the album proper, the vocal delivery feels very close to that of Fiona Apple on her massive album from last year. The music is more conventional and less chaotic, but I can’t hear this song without thinking of Fetch The Bolt Cutters. ‘I Hate Myself’ has the rhythms and pop sensibilities of an act like Christine And The Queens. While a song like ‘Before The Line’ seems to take inspiration from the early work of Laura Marling, with a dash of pop production sprinkled over the top of it.

But then in songs like ‘I Kissed Someone (It Wasn’t You)’, Dodie proves herself to be very much her own artist with her own unique sound. This song is a definite standout on the album, melding a sombre storyline and an often intense string section with a chorus and instrumentation that seems to be born in the lab of a pop manufacturer. It’s the prime example of an artist showing their own style while also picking from a hugely diverse range of influences. ‘Cool Girl’ is another song that excels in this way, and by the time you get through six or seven listens to this album, you will probably be noticing the moments like this one more – the moments that show Dodie as a star in her own right, rather than the moments that seem borrowed from other people. ‘Cool Girl’ also has her most stirring vocal – mixing the sweetest sounds she can muster with the most mournful moments, too. ‘Special Girl’ ends a run of album highlights with some real attitude, a sense of survival in the face of adversity.

And somehow, with all these obvious and diverse influences, and with all these oddball and interesting moments that make Dodie stand out as an artist in her own right, Build A Problem still feels like a very complete piece of work. Something ties it all together. After a few weeks with the album, I think I have been able to determine what that thread is. And ‘Rainbow’, a song that at first felt too dramatic for me, probably sums up the connection most clearly. It is the most truly vulnerable and honest song in an album which repeatedly sees Dodie put the many aspects of her self out on the table. This is an album that doesn’t shy away from any of the complex emotions its artist is experiencing – be it self-acceptance on ‘Rainbow’, self-doubt and vulnerability on ‘For Tequilas Down’, self-loathing on ‘Hate Myself’, a desire for revenge on ‘I Kissed Someone’, or heartbreak and anxiety on ‘When’. It’s an album with so many components – on the surface, a jaunty piece of indie-pop with some mournful moments, but on repeated listens a complex character study jam-packed with cracking tunes.

Words by Fran Slater

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