Whereas Mesh has a sound fit for alternative rock radio stations, Blackcarburning trades in human guitars and drumbeats for more refined, machinelike programming that focuses even more on Mark Hocking’s emotions. The trancelike qualities may be both familiar and alien to fans of Mesh, but tracks like “The Mirror” and “The Sound of Running” can become favorites in no time if given enough space to grow.
Throughout Watching Sleepers, Hockings spreads his wings and soars through skies of synths and sorrowful vocals. Tracks seem to complement one another on a journey through the more electronic corners of his mind, the pop influences coming through on very few tracks, such as “Divide Us” or “Guilty.” The vocals are the main point, and focus isn’t given as much to the rhythmic beats and complex techno sounds that one might be familiar with in Mesh. Neil Francis’ voice on “Watch Me Die” and “Love in Control” provides an air of mystery, offering a less gritty take on the sorrow in Hockings heart from a richer tone, while Mari Kattman provides an almost siren-like quality to her delivery on “Divide Us,” her pronouncements almost pushing and pulling listeners on a rope. The programming on this album makes entire worlds out of small songs, with the only song feeling out of place being the finale “To Sleep.” To have the beautifully, serene vibe of “Love in Control” followed up by another techno track seems to throw the ending of Watching Sleepers squarely into the darkness and ends it on a macabre note.
As a first solo offering, Hockings comes out with haunting melodies that hold the listener from start to finish. With tight production by Hockings and John Fryer, each song is given room to expand itself in the space it’s given without spilling out onto the floor. Watching Sleepers demonstrates that Blackcarburning has the drive to grow alongside Mesh as a third leg to stand on for Hockings’ musical ability.