Alan Courtis (aka Anla Courtis) is one of those composers that at times is occasionally too prolific, spreading himself thin over numerous collaborations and solo works each year. Because of that, his work is sometimes less focused than it could be, simply due to the extreme breadth of what he puts out. However, when one of his releases is obviously a fully realized concept, his work is usually exceptionally compelling. Los Galpones (The Sheds) is one of his more targeted works, by that standard. A record built upon mostly just guitar and metallic objects, it is a wonderfully unified suite of four distinct pieces that work together perfectly and creates a nuanced sense of post-industrial decay.
Each side of Los Galpones consists of two pieces, one shorter and one longer. In these, Courtis coaxes pained sounds from his guitar, with rhythmic elements from springs and other found objects, into a bleak din of industrial (in the physical sense) dissonance. "Hombrear" is all deep and bassy hollow expanses, with electronic sounds slowly bubbling up from the tarpit like foundation below. Heavy echoes mix with the electronics, building slowly and becoming more and more imposing. By the end, there is a strong rhythmic structure to it, nicely composed, with abrasive, violent bowed violin strings cutting through like a rusty blade. The shorter companion "Aparcero" is comparably sparser, with what sounds like scraped guitar strings and other less identifiable processed outbursts. By the end of its relatively short duration, it is a disorienting mess of whipping panned noises that are anything but monotonous.
On the other side, "Estiba" begins as a heavy bass murk, with a far off guitar clang slowly introduced into the mix. For the whole performance Courtis works on top of an insistent rhythmic throb, with the entirety being noisy yet structured. Some whistle blowing like noises pop up here and there to keep everything abrasive, but the guitar nicely contrasts by becoming more and more musical. Even with the violently grinding harsh bits that appear towards the end, the overall feel is more depressive rather than aggressive, and the song concludes in a great, erratic disintegration of noise and melody.
The shorter accompaniment "Corralon" is largely pleasantly strummed guitar compared to the dissonance before. Rather than the heavy processing and effects before, it is essentially just echoed and delayed, creating a more expansive sound from a rather simple source. Courtis layers these sounds expertly, mixing in percussion and subtle treatments to create a thick, rich expanse of drones that is far more than the sum of its parts. Compared to what preceded it the feel is more sad and mournful than overly depressive, ending the album on an especially beautiful note.
Los Galpones is a high point in Alan Courtis' expansive, ever-growing catalog. There is a bleak darkness, like a sense of urban decay to be heard throughout the album that he captures through the instrumentation and his guitar playing. It never comes across as forced or overly on the nose, though. Instead the performance and production captures this sensibility in a solely audio form. Make no mistake: Los Galpones is bleak and anything but uplifting in sound, but it is a bleakness achieved so adeptly that it takes on a distinct beauty all its own.