Faux Fawn, The Ornaments, and Wendy Schneider bring you some bittersweet season’s bummers.
I didn’t really set out to find sad Christmas songs by local artists and their collaborators, but, like “wise” men who think myrrh is a great gift for a baby, three Madison artists and their collaborators have delivered.
First up is The Ornaments, a duo of Madisonian Lance Owens (founder of Artworking, a local non-profit that aids the developmentally disabled) and formerly Madisonian-based singer-songwriter Mike Behrends. “The Ornaments Won’t Hang Themselves (Alone For The Holidays)” is this holidays-only project’s second release. “It’s the antithesis to Perry Como’s ‘There’s No Place Like Home For The Holidays,’ which fits The Ornaments’ vibe as a decidedly non-religious Christmas music band,” says Behrends, who now lives in Minneapolis. “We’re not Christmas curmudgeons, but those stations and department stores that play Christmas music around the clock make you tire of the holiday music genre real quick.”
Madison/Stoughton band Faux Fawn’s recently released Christmas EP, Turtle Doves, isn’t necessarily a full-on downer. But singer/songwriter Paul Otteson’s voice, at once husky and eerily high-register, doesn’t lend itself to conventional holiday cheer. In fact, songs like “Winter Dream” and “A Lion’s Share” tell stories of people who endure through heartache and poverty but try to to find solace and warmth in the holiday season anyway. The narrator of the last track, “I Found A Star,” is drawn on by something he only hints at—maybe addiction, maybe sheer restlessness—and it certainly sounds lonely, but there’s a surprisingly Christmas-specific kernel of redemption in the song: “If babe so lowly, can grow so holy/ Soon she’ll see me, past my strange need,” Otteson sings.
Lastly, Wendy Schneider (musician, filmmaker, and organizer of the Maria’s concert series) recently sent me an old Christmas song she made with Madison native and Braid guitarist/vocalist Chris Broach. Slow and sparse, with a faint piano ringing in the background, “Toy” paints this picture of Christmas: “Nothing gifted, nothing said/ all the windows frozen like a heart betrayed.” Sleep tight, Little Lord!