Aptly titled “What’s Wrong,” Elliott Fullam’s debut album is the type of music you’d listen to on a casual trip to your local cemetery.
Fullam is one of the most interesting new artists I have discovered recently. Although, “discovered” is a stretch, seeing as he blew up on TikTok within the first week of the album’s release on his 18th birthday.
Inspired by some of his favorite artists, including Duster and Elliott Smith, Fullam playfully ponders sadness — a concept I didn’t know was possible.
“What’s Wrong” starts the ghost imagery off strong with the song “Dolonia,” one of my favorites. The hook is catchy but it’s the lyrics that anchor the song for me, with lines like “I see myself again in the walls / quiet as I fall.”
Fullam’s lyricism ties the album together thematically, though his mumbliness makes the words unintelligible at times. I used to dislike mumbly lyrics, but I’ve grown to appreciate the style for its subtlety. If I want to zone out and let the mood of the instrumental take over, I can easily do so. Or I can take the time to focus on the lyrics and maybe even read along as I listen.
The album’s production value is also quite impressive for an indie artist at his age. In the beginning of “You’ll See My Ghost,” a UFO noise can be made out before the guitar and drum kick in. On “Blend Into Walls,” a sound almost like one of those groan tube toys plays in the background, adding another layer of eeriness to the song.
The album’s high point comes at the midway mark with a solid four-song streak, starting with “I’m So Happy.” It’s almost, dare I say, akin to Phoebe Bridgers’ “Garden Song.” That is, if you see “Garden Song” as the epitome of growing-up songs — which I’m guessing our college demographic might.
With lyrics like “maybe I won’t be alone,” “Going Alone” simultaneously continues the album’s contradictory nature and gives the listener a glimmer of hope amidst all the gloom and doom. At this point during the cemetery visit the listener might even be prompted to break into a skip, or at least have a little more pep in their step — who knows?
Though Fullam is clearly very talented, especially for his age, there are a few moments when his youth is made apparent. This is evident particularly on “What’s Wrong,” when he says “fuck” with the shaky confidence of a newly 18-year-old boy testing the swearing waters.
But that just makes Elliott Fullam all the more likable. A huge part of his appeal is his earnest personality, which shines through on his TikTok account. Most of his videos start with an enthusiastic “allll right so … ” followed by his latest life or music-related update. You can tell he is a bonafide music nerd, as demonstrated by his pure excitement when talking about everything from John Coltrane to Metallica to his own album.
It usually takes more than just a likable personality for a song to succeed on TikTok, though. Typically, because of the standard 15-second video format, it also takes catchy lyrics. At least, that’s what it took for indie singer-songwriters like Leith Ross, quinnie and Katie Gregson-MacLeod to have their songs blow up.
To be frank, Fullam’s songs aren’t that catchy. Maybe after a few listens a tune or two could get stuck in your head, but it’s certainly not enough to inspire a TikTok trend. Yet his music has inspired users to make videos reacting to Fullam, saying “this is literally a generational talent,” or “this kid just dropped a masterful first album and most likely went to geometry class right after.”
Fullam’s music elicits this reaction because his music is unlike anything being released by his peers — in style, quality and the fact that he did not specifically craft his music for a TikTok audience. His work is born from a genuine passion for and deep knowledge of music.
To date, Fullam’s TikTok account has amassed roughly 229,000 followers. Two of his songs have been added to official Spotify-made playlists and his top song has accumulated over a million streams. He also recently signed with his self-professed dream label, Kill Rock Stars, with which he released a new EP.
Too often it feels that indie artists these days are trying to cater to what they think the TikTok audience wants to hear. A particular nursery rhyme wannabe-punk style comes to mind, a style which got old very fast. It seems the secret to success — and to making quality music — is not to do what everyone else is doing. In fact, for the good of the TikTok soundscape and the music world as a whole, more artists should follow Fullam’s footsteps in embracing their unique talents.
Hannah Weaver SC ’24 is a music columnist for TSL. For the full spooky fall experience, she recommends listening to Elliott Fullam while sitting/walking/running/biking on the Marshall Canyon Trail.