This is exactly how a singles and rarities compilation should look and be packaged -- as something special for fans. A Present from the Past is a lavishly assembled double disc from WEA International. It collects tracks from B-sides, EPs, compilations, alternate versions, unreleased demos, and finished cuts. There are 32 selections in all, ranging from the earliest demos when the Soundtrack of Our Lives were just forming in 1995 through to 2005, the year this baby was released. What is so startling is the consistently high quality of the material, with its sequencing along aesthetic rather than chronological order in order to make it seem like a new studio album from SOOL. There is material with founding member Björn Olsson, who, like Ian Person and Ebbot Lundberg, were mutineers from Union Carbide Productions. Olsson left some years ago for a solo career, but his contribution is wonderfully noted here on cuts such as the rocking "Galaxy Gramophone," "When Lightning Bugs Arrive," the unissued demo of "A Room Without a View," "Four Ages, Pt. 1," and "Retired Teenage Angst," all of which were B-sides and EP cuts. But in a sense that's only the beginning. Since the band has evolved into such a powerfully focused unit, some of the set's strongest tunes come from far later in its history, such as 2003's "Infinite Zero," which has not seen release until now, and 2005's "To Somewhere Else," the flip side of "Heading for a Breakdown." The multi-textured sonic world that blends acoustic and electric rock is seamless. The band's transitions range over the sounds from the 1960s on without ever sounding like anyone but SOOL. Here, in the less formal moments (such as the demo of "We'll Get By," "Everyday Preacher," "Blind Date," "Still Get Around," and others), their processes and natural abilities at melding different approaches and sounds end up as solid songwriting and performances.
Whereas A Present from the Past is a fan's dream, it goes much further than that as an album. It serves as an excellent primer for the newcomer; it's an initiation into the sound world of SOOL, who are all but unknown in the United States (though not for lack of trying), though in their native Sweden and throughout Western Europe they are a supergroup. From early Pink Floyd and Love through the latter days of Australia's Saints, to the early Echo & the Bunnymen and backwards again through Moby Grape, SOOL weave a mysterious but elegantly constructed personality that is seamless and unique. The quality of the songwriting is pivotal. Nothing is wasted in SOOL's approach, and nothing is left to chance in the studio. Live, there is a great deal of experimentation and loose-cannon energy, making for exciting performances. Everything brought in gets used in some unique way. These tracks offer not only a portrait of where SOOL have been but also where they are going -- and that's where this compilation succeeds. It is not a summation, but a series of aural snapshots of history and process. The faithful will be delighted to know that the set includes complete lyrics and issue information as well. A Present from the Past is highly recommended to anyone curious not only about SOOL, but about rock & roll.