words by phill young
When producer and visual artist Ben Pearson returned home to Manchester after a year living in Melbourne, fragments of ideas began to blossom into a fully realised project. Ultraviolet, the debut Espher LP, might have began life under a familiar industrial skyline, but it’s clear the world created is both expansive and beautifully imagined. Moments of highly personal introspection intertwine seamlessly with dream-like sequences which float into the unreal.
Album opener “Zenith” is an 8 minute introduction of cinematic proportions, slowly revealing the scale of Pearson’s ambition; a bold artistic statement that reaches far into the depths of a bleak universe, before pushing at the edges and breaking, exploding, scattering across the sky like dust. Bringing to my mind at least, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Danny Boyle’s Sunshine… where humanity finds itself on the brink of oblivion. Themes of life and death, time and travel, technology and nature are intelligently woven throughout Ultraviolet in a lucid electronic tapestry.
Lunar Light Rays are shafts of light that shine through the gaps and cracks in crater walls to illuminate the moon surface. After the apocalypse must come hope. Pearson’s inventive production here is so playful and free – almost like dandelion seeds floating through the wind that you can’t help but be swept along. It’s this ability to marry the light with the dark that makes Espher such an intriguing proposition; everything is lovingly connected.
There’s a sense of looking back with regret on the spiritual “Within.” Pearson’s blank vocals and brooding melancholy are strangely comforting; ghosts of the past carrying you reassuringly into the next life. Taking influence from James Blake’s gospel-infused electronica, it’s the first moment where I truly felt like I was part of the Ultraviolet story, rather than watching from afar.
For someone as technically accomplished as Pearson undoubtedly is, and with so many individual and contrasting components at work, it’s a miracle he has managed to make Ultraviolet sound cohesive… but always full of surprises. Together is a heartbreaking collaboration with the mysterious “Shy Heavens.” Lyrically dealing with grief, loss and faith – this is a great pop song hidden in the bloodstream of Ultraviolet‘s body.
The album’s true highlight is “Mångata”; a devastatingly personal reflection, mesmerising in it’s own simplicity. Pearson’s relationship with his piano is one that echoes the minimalist ideals of Nils Frahm and here it takes centre stage – giving emphasis to raw human emotion; loneliness, frustration and a voice that wishes to be heard. With tracks like this, it will be. Sometimes it’s the quietest moments that make the biggest noise.
There are great dance floor anthems here too. The gloriously propulsive “Orchid” wouldn’t feel out of place on Jon Hopkin’s masterpiece “Immunity”, beats bouncing around like charged atoms waiting to collide with each other, whilst Sufi glows in glorious ambient swirls. Ultraviolet is a triumph in sonic exploration, and Pearson’s arrangements are able to move both your heart and feet; shifting the direction of travel effortlessly from vulnerability to self-belief, from pleasure to retreat.
A trilogy of songs build momentously towards a dizzying grand finale. Machina, a glitchy, androgynous masterpiece, with traces of Kid A era Radiohead – makes me imagine digital raindrops falling to the ground, panic setting in… almost like a dystopian nightmare and an awakening from a dream. “Pelog” urgently ushers in the end, the ticking of life’s clock and crystalline heartbeats hurrying you towards the brutal and beautiful “Guardian”… a song that confronts Pearson’s isolation head on, an emotional climax that pirouettes between fear and euphoria. Ultraviolet, although full of individual brilliance, was designed to be heard as a whole – musical chromosomes tied together to form a living, breathing organism.
Ultraviolet is out now on via Ramber Records