February 10th, 2019 | Album reviews

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Mall of Fortune
Innovative Leisure

Early last year, an unusual video bubbled its way to the surface of the internet: an image of a vacant indoor shopping mall, captured and paired with Childish Gambino’s neo-soul sensation “Redbone.” With its juxtaposition of sterilized still life and unmistakably resonant and bombastic funk, the clip was satisfying yet eerie. Indeed, it provokes the question of why, exactly, is it so weird for music to exist without an audience? Especially when that music is as exceptionally feel good as Gambino’s biggest sleeper hit? But it was also a reminder that “Redbone” is a human record for human movements, like dancing or making love. The same can be said for Harriet Brown’s second album, Mall of Fortune, which, despite the title, has little to do with literal opulence and consumerism. Instead, Bay Area-raised/L.A.-based multi-hyphenate Aaron Valenzuela delivers a 14-track R&B project that toys with the concept of life as a shopping mall: if wealth must be spent consciously, so too one’s time.

As with Contact, the artist’s debut full-length as Harriet Brown, Valenzuela manifested this new record into existence all by himself. Both albums are self-produced, arranged, composed and performed, but this isn’t to say the two releases are analogous. In fact, Mall of Fortune is a noticable departure from the gated reverb, galactic synths and punchy falsetto on Contact. While the earlier release is explicitly 80s, Harriet Brown’s latest effort is a blast of gaudy turn-of-the-century soul, the type of stuff that could establish Valenzuela as a millennial Prince. And in this case, ‘gaudy’ is a great thing—it’s a way to describe the ostentatious details of Mall of Fortune, a record that feels deliriously unpredictable and smart, as well as soaked head-to-toe in Y2K nostalgia.

From opener “Window Shopping”—a brief introduction that undresses the album’s mall metaphor—to closing slow jam “Take Your Time with Me,” Mall of Fortune celebrates a computerized funk reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s Invincible era. Valenzuela’s music is made not just of stratified production intricacies—experimental drum loops and elastic synthesizers—but charismatic songwriting, too. “Cinnamon Sky” is a uniquely romanticized take on Los Angeles’ smoggy horizon, while “Man” is a gentle embrace of timeless ‘baby please’ soul. And nestled perfectly between Valenzuela’s own sultry vocals are those of Ana Roxanne and Felicia Douglass, whose obviously feminine stylings counter the androgyny of Valenzuela’s sound. As with much of his ambitious, one-man-band peculiarities, this is yet another of the deliberate ambiguities that makes Harriet Brown’s work so delicious. Make a stop at the food court before stepping out into the empty parking lot—Mall of Fortune is that last sweet treat you need.

Sydney Sweeney