REVIEW: june gloom - fake problems

Kelly Kirwan

Jesse Paller wades into shades of gray on his latest album, fake problems, with low-key melodies and lingering guitar notes living like surf rock in the shade. It’s a mellow moodiness that seeps between his nine tracks, an aura of Elliott Smith and the influence of his breathy, delicate vocals permeating throughout. Paller’s music is an intersection of reverb and introspection, a niche that is aptly conveyed by his solo moniker, june gloom. It’s a nod to a West Coast weather phenomenon (Paller is a California native, turned DC transplant, turned up-and-coming Brooklyn-dweller), in which cloudy skies set in just as the season changes to summer.

It was this polarity, of freedom and malaise, that perhaps came to mind as he neared the last two years of college on the East Coast, describing a sense of listlessness that came to be enveloping. fake problems became a conduit for healing, or at least a kind of exorcism, in which Paller could stitch together his feelings of disconnect and make sense of them with a chord progression. What’s even more interesting about his latest release, aside from its personal weight, is that in the past Paller has mainly spearheaded percussion. He’s handled the drums for bands like Tall Friend and Boon, but took this time to write, play, record, and mix each facet of fake problems himself—this was his ghost, and he set it free.

The opening track, "get free," begins with a conversation that’s hard to pick up—a quiet room and casual exchange, as if we’re meant to be flies on the wall, oscillating between listening and letting our minds wander aimlessly. It then goes into a simple, repetitive guitar riff, which stands alone, dredging up a sense of intimacy that seems to move in the same way as sadness. The lyrics are a single stanza, Paller’s voice barely a whisper in the beginning, “Gotta get free from the people around me / Then maybe I won’t be as lonely.” The second half of the song becomes more earnest, the vocals swelling to a height that has the desperation of a last-ditch effort. “I’ll miss you but not like you miss me,” he notes, and the irony that’s filled the nooks and crannies of this song reveals itself—that Paller seems to have figured out the alienation he feels towards others is tied to an alienation he feels towards himself.

Then there’s "swampmouth," which also relies on a twangy guitar strum, the riff marked by a nasally pitch at the end that almost sounds as if the note veered off-key. It fits with the track’s direct aesthetic, which follows a list of ailments and a dose of apathy: “I wake up / I hear bells / And the sunlight on my face / Burns like hell.” Paller’s voice is the personification of fatigue, the melody joined by a light drumming and soft pattering of cymbals. Towards the end, the song grows to feel inviting, a bed to rest our weary heads that isn’t as weighed down with melancholy as one might expect. It's fake problems in microcosm, accented with angst and a cathartic outlet—shades of gray we can get behind.