There's just something about the debut disc from Boston's Birdwatchers of America that defies categorization. First of all, is it an EP or a full-length? Nominally it's 13 tracks clocking in at 40 minutes, which sounds like a full-length. But 6 of the 13 tracks are spoken-word interstitials, so there are really only 7 proper songs here, which is more like an EP. And if the format classification is tricky, the sound is even more so. Not quite power pop, not quite jangle-rock, not quite classic rock, but not quite Americana, There Have Been Sightings may be tough to pin down genre-wise but is an outstanding accomplishment nonetheless.
After the first of six brief spoken-word musings on ornithology, "Rain Down The Chimes" bursts through the speakers with a classic sound that recalls birds spelled with a "y" instead of an "i", but not as jangly. There's a bit of the Third of Never and The Grip Weeds in this track, yet it stands on its own as melodic, atmospheric rock. "Ashes of the Sun" pushes the six-minute mark, but never wears out its welcome as it first appears a straightforward midtempo rocker but builds an interesting momentum. "The Boy Emperor and G.I. Joe" recalls Sound of Lies-era Jayhawks, when Gary Louris was attempting to channel Alex Chilton, and is another quality track. Elsewhere, "Save The Berlin Wall Committee Blues" also leans Americana, with more the feel of some of Wilco's more adventurous Mermaid Avenue outings; "Call From Virginia" is a 7-minute gem which makes me rethink my philosophy that the best pop songs shouldn't exceed 3-4 minutes, and the final proper track "My Stolen Bird" is another fine tune in the overall vein of the disc.
With its idiosyncratic retro-yet-new pop sound and loose concept, this disc has the makings of a pop cult classic that some tastemaker will unearth 10-15 years from now. But don't wait until then - grab what may turn out to be 2008's most singular pop release today.
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