A product of lockdown, BLACKCARBURNING is the solo vehicle of Mark Hockings, lead singer of MESH.

While MESH have been on numerous concert outings with a live document ‘Touring Skyward – A Tour Movie’ in 2022, there has been no new material with bandmate Richard Silverthorn since 2016’s ‘Looking Skyward’ album.

Addressing the existential crisis than emerged following the pandemic, Hockings took on the challenge of multiple roles including programming and production, a legacy of him almost accidentally falling into the role of MESH’s vocalist. So far, there have been three EPs plus a JAPAN cover ‘The Other Side Of Life’ for the tribute collection ‘Still Life In Polaroids’.

Although a solo project, Hockings does not hog the limelight on BLACKCARBURNING’s debut long player ‘Watching Sleepers’ as special guests Mari Kattman, Neil Francis and Janne Marvannen of LAKESIDE X take turns as featured artists on a number of songs. As far as the material contained on ‘Watching Sleepers’ goes, there is no carry over from the previously released ‘Divide Us’, ‘Reset’ and ‘All About You’ EPs, save the title songs, albeit in different versions.

The opening salvo of ‘All About You’ is MESH in all but name with a suitably angst-ridden delivery and feisty backing that will keep the faithful happy. The spikey throbbing energy of ‘The Mirror’ provides a dark disco highlight away from the parent band’s template but with a rockier edge, ‘Reset’ ramps up the pace to MESH-like proportions. Something of a banger and very immediate with ominous orchestrated lines to boot towards the end, ‘Losing Our Way’ will also please Meshheads.

But taking different paths, ‘Echo Chamber’ brings vocoder into the vocal aesthetic for some emotive electronic pop while the sparse structure of the ‘Watching Sleepers’ title track brings in an unusual mix of acoustic guitar lines and dominant synth arpeggios.

‘The Sound of Running’ is archetypical MESH with female vox humana phrases and cut from a similar cloth, ‘Breaking Bones’ brings a moderate bounce and plays with interesting pitched voice manipulations for its intro hook.

With the four guest lead vocalled works, ‘Divide Us’ featuring the beautiful voice of Mari Kattman compliments the song’s varying tempos in utilising her range of understated and aggressive modes. Fronted by Janne Marvannen, ‘Your Heart Is Like An Island’ springs an aesthetic surprise and does something a bit different with its downtempo rhythmic stutter.

On the two numbers featuring Neil Francis, the mid-paced but rousing ‘Watch Me Die’ enters into crooner territory and his smoother timbre will surprise MESH fans. But another unexpected turn comes with ‘Love In Control’ which recalls the forgotten Romo duo ORLANDO in its acoustic six string assisted synthpop with Francis at the point of almost sounding like Gene Pitney. MESH fans will probably be scratching their heads but this is a classic pop ditty shows the songwriter aspect of Mark Hockings. A song that Hockings himself had troubling nailing, with Francis realising its potential vocally, a future as a songwriter for other singers may beckon.

Those who might have been disappointed with the BLACKCARBURNING EPs will be pleased with how ‘Watching Sleepers’ has turned out. Although there are perhaps are too many songs on it, this can be seen as a positive in that Hockings is clearing the decks to proceed with Richard Silverthorn to work on a new MESH album.

A thoughtful electronic pop record, ‘Watching Sleepers’ makes a fitting and largely enjoyable stop-gap before the follow-up to ‘Looking Skyward’ eventually emerges.

‘Watching Sleepers’ is released by COP International as a CD, deluxe 2CD + download on 23 June 2023 available from https://linktr.ee/blackcarburning




Text by Chi Ming Lai
20 June 2023