On her second release, singer/songwriter/pianist Diane Birch unites with neo-soul outfit The Phenomenal Handclap Band for The Velveteen Age, a seven-track cover collection of dark eighties/early nineties cult hits. Album cover aside, however, little here suggests the tunes’ stygian origins. Exuberance, not melancholy, is the dominant atmosphere.
To say Diane Birch and The Phenomenal Handclap Band reimagine gothic rock as pop would be misleading. Classics of the genre like the Sisters of Mercy’s “This Corrosion” and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Kiss Them for Me” were rousing pop songs from the start. Rather, Diane Birch and The Phenomenal Handclap Band reimagine these songs as seventies pop, complete with Motown and doo-wop flourishes. On “This Corrosion,” Sisters’ singer Andrew Eldritch self-consciously refers to his outsider rock as “selling the don’t belong.” By giving the dark side of the eighties/early nineties a retro feel, Diane Birch and The Phenomenal Handclap Band repackage that same “don’t belong” for a new audience.