The Rust Belt refers to a largely-deindustrialized portion of the United States surrounding the Great Lakes. Once a powerhouse of manufacturing, the region is now known for being a poster child of economic decline, and perhaps swinging a presidential election. Thet Liturgiske Owäsende are Swedish experimentalists Linus Schrab and Johan Fotmeijer, and their Wisconsin Mining State release sonically explores the sparseness and melancholy of small towns in this region. In fact, four of the six tracks are titled after mining towns with populations of less than 2000 each.
Using synths, guitars, and field recordings, Schrab and Fotmeijer provide drones with mechanical rhythms and pulsing bass, evoking post-industrial soundscapes – a place where the machines have largely shut down, but occasionally fire up for a few minutes at a time. Platteville begins with a slowly repeating drone melody that grows and ebbs with lightly-distorted walls. Hazel Green offers dark ambient atmospherics interspersed with ominous crescendos. Iron Ridge consists of oscillating drones and a sparse, repeating bass line. Klar Piquett features throbbing, distorted walls. Mineral Point, perhaps my favorite track, is dominated by a start/stop mechanical cadence overlaid with varied percussive patterns. Rajah is a more traditional spacious, ambient drone, and somewhat out of place compared to its companion tracks.
In a world where ambient music is easy to come by (and much of it is quite good), it can be hard for a release such as this one to stand out. And yet, Wisconsin Mining State somehow does. Through a layering of simple elements and a juxtaposition of melody and distortion, Schrab and Fotmeijer’s dark offering characterizes a set of uneasy emotions that are felt not only in the Rust Belt, but anywhere that industry is in decline.