There are more Christmas albums floating around out there than you can shake a candy cane-colored stick at, so why be enthralled with yet one more? Well, Imagene Peise and her Atlas Eets Christmas definitely stands out among the sea of green and red and mistletoe-kissed rehashes. With its Middle-Eastern lean and slightly dusty-sounding ambiance you’d think you were sitting in a cafe in Baghdad back in 1971 and not your living room in 2014. It’s a pleasant and slightly mysterious collection of Christmas song covers.
Who is Imagene Peise? Well, according to the few nuggets of information I could find on the interweb she’s an Iraqi jazz pianist, and the on the back sleeve of the album cover it says the album was recorded in the early 70s. She recorded the record with Ominog Bangh on the laughing/crying glider synthesizer and Shineyou Bhupal on drones/sitar/baritone tambura. This is the only recording of Peise that exists and she was rumored to have committed suicide in 1978. It’s all very sad when you look at it. Well, it is until you realize this is all just a ruse by none other than The Flaming Lips. Yes, Imagene Peise(Imagine Peace, anyone?) is an alias for the incredibly talented Steven Drozd. It’s a pretty clever put-on, actually. Drozd’s amazing piano chops are all over this album. I can understand their reasoning for creating this character in order to put out a Christmas album. The Lips have flooded the musical landscape as of late, and I’m sure in order to add a little mystery to the recent Black Friday Record Store Day they decided to put out a Christmas album under the nom de plume of a tragic figure such as a doomed Iraqi jazz pianist.
So how is the album? It’s damn good. In fact, it’s the most refreshing collection of Christmas standards I’ve heard in a very long time. Imagine the Vince Guaraldi Trio recreating the Peanuts Christmas album deep in the heart of Baghdad, with possibly some hallucinogenics involved. There is an air of mystery to this album that lends itself quite well to the back story the Lips provided for this release. If it weren’t for the artwork(which resembles most of the Lips artwork), the Coyne-esque vocals that show up on two of the album’s songs, and the sticker that says “Love Is The Answer- Merry Christmas From The Flaming Lips!” on the album sleeve, you really could let yourself fall for this Imagene Peise. It’s a truly beautiful and exotic collection of songs that feel both happy, inspiring, and sad as well. The idea of a young Iraqi musician playing Christmas standards in the heart of the Middle East and playing them so well and with such love almost creates this sense of togetherness that I feel we desperately need right about now.
The Flaming Lips have given us another musical gift, and one we can enjoy every holiday season from here on out.
7.8 out of 10