“Le Vainqueur” – Le Vainqueur

The punch – counterpunch rhythm of the drums at the beginning of the songs lets you know that this song is something different. This song is confrontational. The wall of layered guitars jumps in. They are as thick as the muggy air on a summer Louisiana night. Impenetrable. The lead guitar rapidly phases in and out with feedback that can barely be contained. I don’t know what tuning this song is in but it sounds like all the strings are dropping it like it’s hot.

Just as the vocals come in, the wall of guitars gives way to a quieter, more atmospheric sound. But there is still as much tension here; it did not release its grip because the volume decreased. The tension is in the vocals too and in the words that are being said. The lead guitar meanders around in the background. As the vocals in the verse fade down, the wall of guitars jumps back in and are as relentless as they were in the intro. The loud-quiet-loud arc of the song never lets you get too comfortable in one place before pulling you into another.

At 3:12, the bridge comes in. It is another one of those quiet atmospheric moments. The lead guitar comes with a hollow tone and reverb. It reminds me of guitar riffs on blues songs as it sounds like it is saying something and what it is saying was not entirely planned out in advance. It sounds something like your voice might in the waning moments of a verbal fight when the fireworks seem to be over with but you turn and say, “But, you know, I just find it funny that….”, and you are back at it.

Suddenly, the wall of guitars are back at it too, this time even more insistent. Now the lead guitar has a thicker tone and it rides on the crest of a tidal wave of feedback. Then there is silence. They say that before a tidal wave hits, the ocean recedes as the tidal wave draws all the water into itself, increasing its size and force before it meets land. And so it is here. At 4:22, we hear a female voice saying, “Let’s go!” It is rare to hear a female voice in a sf59 song so I find it notable that there is one here. Just like it was women who first proclaimed the resurrection of Christ, it is a woman here who calls us into the final and most powerful part of this song.

The punch – counterpunch of the drums come in to herald the crashing of the tidal wave of the guitars on the shore. The rhythm guitars pound out the guitar progression as the blistering lead soars over feedback. Just when you think there’s no where else for this song to go, the guitar and bass in unison play a series of punctuated notes. High – low. Half step up – low. Whole step up – low. Then a descending line to the song’s final resounding resolution chord.

What is at the heart of the lyrics is the singer’s struggle with following God’s will but feeling it all the same. The singer knows that Christ will conquer all and will bring the only kind of healing that will make it better. It makes me think on one of my favorite theories on the atonement of Christ. I’ve been chewing on the idea of atonement for a few decades now. I still do not know how it works, but I have a few ideas.

The atonement theory I hear most often in these parts is the ransom theory. This theory rests in the idea that’s God’s vengeance at our sins is great and must be absolved. Rather than pour that vengeance on us, He sends his Son, a part of Himself, to take that vengeance so that we would not have to. I do not care for this theory. It makes God seem small and petty.

I read an amazing psychological study on the process of making amends in broken relationships. In the purely mortal realm, the way that relationships may be healed after a breach has occurred is this: both the victim and the one who broke the relationship must be willing to come together. There has to be genuine accountability and responsibility for the one who did the breaking and genuine compassion and forgiveness by the victim. This is the only ground upon which the relationship can be healed and trust may grow again. This is were atonement, or “at-one-ment” may occur; what is broken shall be made whole again. If only one person in the relationship is willing to engage in this work, the relationship will remain broken. The victim cannot heal the relationship with someone who refuses to be accountable for their actions. The one who did the breaking cannot reconcile with someone who has no compassion or forgiveness.

I’ve thought about how this same dynamic may play out in the spiritual realm. If we feel that we have broken our relationship with God, we have to find a way back to healing through His compassion and forgiveness. Maybe God sent Christ as a sacrifice not because His vengeance needed to be absolved but because He knew that we needed to know that there was a path toward healing in compassion and forgiveness. If we did not know that path was there, we would forever feel that relationship is broken and imbalanced.

But there is another theory of atonement that I like. It is often referred to as Christus Victor, or “Christ the Victor”. This theory claims that the intent of Christ’s sacrifice was to fight and conquer evil. You’ll see this idea in some of the fictional writings of C.S. Lewis and Madelaine L’Engle. The idea here is that Satan (or whatever name you wish to use for evil) held us as slaves because we had given ourselves over to sin. Christ offers His death in payment for our release from bondage. Satan takes the bait not realizing that since Christ is part of God, He is unconquerable.

And so it is that that Christ is the conqueror. He is Invictus. He conquers all that would hold us down and separate us from knowingly living in the boundless love of God. Nothing shall prevail against us while we are under His protection, not even ourselves. The lyrics of the song seem to point to the second coming of Christ as time that He will conquer. I tend to think it has already happened. For me to be able to describe that distinction, I would have to go into theories about the timelessness of God and this post would become much longer.

For right now though, it is enough for me to know that all that would hold me down in this life – the pain, rejection, grief and brokenness – Christ conquers. And the healing makes it better and better and better.

“When No One Calls (It Will be Alright)” – Le Vainqueur

I know I said I would skip EPs but I’m doing this one because I think it is an important bridge between Gold and Americana and also because I want to learn how to spell Le Vainqueur without having to look it up all the time. However, I’m only doing this EP partially; I’m not reviewing the radio edit of “Le Vainqueur” and I’m skipping “Starflyer 2000” because I’m going to do “Leigh and Me” at a later date.

Le Vainqueur is the beginning point of some characteristics of sf59 songs that I love so much in later albums. This song starts out dark, moody and discordant. The rhythm guitars are slow and determined and sound a lot like chainsaws. Something is being cut down here (I have some theories on what this may be but we will get to that more in Americana). It reminds me of some Saturday mornings when I was a kid when Daddy decided that some trees on the property had to go. I would hear that chainsaw droning outside for hours; sometimes steady, sometimes punctuated in short bursts when he revved the chainsaw up or when he was sawing through a branch. I would go outside to help him put the sticks and branches in piles, although most of my time was spent climbing and playing on the branches of the newly fallen tree.

I have to confess that this is one of those songs that I had no clue what the lyrics were in the verse until I had to sit down and write about the song. Interpreting sf59 lyrics in the mid-90’s was always a gamble because you couldn’t just Google that shit back then. I would guess at them, make up some of my own, or just forget about the lyrics altogether and just melt into the melody. As it stands, I have no clue what the first verse is about. I’ve had a couple of days to ponder it and still no illumination there.

But picking up on the bridge and the outro, I know those lyrics and have had occasion to live them out. It reminds me of a close relationship I had which fell apart. We were best friends and saw each other everyday for years. At some point, it became apparent to me that I was putting in most of the effort in the relationship. I stayed silent about this for awhile, not knowing what else to do. I even tried bringing this up a few times to explain how I felt but nothing changed in the relationship dynamic.

Now I am a scientifically minded person. If I cannot find an answer to something in conventional ways, I will test it out. And so I did a little experiment. I stopped chasing after this relationship and decided that I would reciprocate what was given to me and little more. I didn’t do this in a cruel way. If she offered to do something with me, I would accept and we would have a good time. Later on I would offer the same to her as she had previously offered to me.

The end result was that the relationship fell apart within a few months. This tells me that it was mostly my energy and effort that was propping up the relationship the whole time and without my effort there to brace the weight of it, what was left of the foundation crumbled and the whole thing came down.

She moved out of state a few months later. The night before she moved away, I asked her if she wanted to remain in contact. I did this in part because I wanted to hear her clearly state her intentions. She said that she did want to remain in contact. In the year since then I have made some small effort to be in contact but she has only called once and that was only because her mother made her do it (there’s a long story attached to that which involves an antique dresser and a tank-top wearing professional body builder showing up at my door unexpectedly).

When I love, I love fiercely. I have always been this way. I have trouble understanding when others do not love the same way. Sometimes the dissonance between what I believe love should be and how other people act can be overwhelming. But what can you do when this dissonance drones on in your head for hours like a chainsaw felling a tree? Do you climb the branches of what is dead on the ground, trying to know and understand something that was previously out of reach?

You hang, you ride on. You keep on going knowing that it will be alright. Even when they do not call, it will be alright. What ain’t growing is dead and there is no point carrying what is dead on your back. You will be better off without that burden. And it will be alright.