Various Artists

Now We Are Ten

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Actually, in 2007, Trunk Records was really 12 years old, not ten. It's just that it was in 1997 that Jonathan Benton-Hughes, aka Jonny Trunk, bought out his former partners and relaunched Trunk Records as a label that mirrored his own idiosyncratic interests. As one can tell from the 21 tracks included on Now We Are Ten -- a look back at the preceding decade's worth of releases -- those interests include tuneful downtempo electronica, reissues of obscure works by little-known soundtrack composers, the rediscovery of ephemeral musical genres like TV and radio commercial soundtracks, or music from children's records and TV shows, and rather a lot of pornography. He came by the last through a family connection: Trunk's sister Emma, under the name Eve Vorley, was a popular softcore porn model in the '90s, and had hired Trunk to run her fan club while the label was struggling off the ground. Dirty Fan Male, a 2002 collection of Vorley's fan letters read by actor Duncan Wisbey in a variety of oddball voices over Trunk's own musical settings, was Trunk Records' breakthrough release, eventually leading to both a book and a successful show at Edinburgh's Fringe Festival for alternative comedy performances. That show inadvertently led to one of Now We Are Ten's six exclusive tracks, which itself went on to some U.K. notoriety. A brief nonsense song that Wisbey and Trunk used to sing on the way to and from the theater, "The Ladies Bras" (set to the tune of "The Gonk" by Herbert Chappell, a bit of German library music that had made it onto the soundtrack of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, one of Trunk's first archival releases; American animation fans also know it as the tune of the closing theme of Cartoon Network's stop-motion series Robot Chicken) caught the ear of a few prominent U.K. DJs, including BBC Radio 1's drive-time host Scott Mills. Playing the 36-second song on the air incessantly, the DJs managed to get the song's download into the official U.K. Top Pop 75 Singles chart as a download-only release; it eventually peaked at number 27 in September 2007, making it the shortest song ever to chart.

But despite the prominence of genial bits of smut like "The Ladies Bras" and "My Special Message" (one of two tracks from Dirty Fan Male, the other being the instrumental "Martin's Theme"), the majority of Now We Are Ten consists of the prettier side of Trunk's aesthetic, quirky takes on easy listening music such as Basil Kirchin's lovely pop ballad "I Start Counting" (the theme to a 1969 horror film of the same name starring Jenny Agutter, who provides the winsome lead vocals as well) and Sven Libaek's Wes Montgomery-like reverie for vibes and guitar "Dark World," from the soundtrack to a 1973 Australian oceanographic documentary called Inner Space. Most of these are from Trunk's archival reissues, including a few tidbits from forthcoming releases like Hear, O Israel, a jazz Sabbath service written by a teenage jazz fan named Jonathan Klein and recorded by a group including Herbie Hancock, Grady Tate, Jerome Richardson, Ron Carter, and Thad Jones (originally privately pressed by the Union for Reform Judaism in 1968), and an anthology of exceedingly rare late-'60s cocktail jazz-psych titled G Is for Groovy. The brilliance of Trunk Records is that in this context, excerpts from the soundtracks of the bleak Ken Loach film Kes and the effervescent children's TV series The Clangers fit perfectly together, and two of the album's most delightful tunes are taken from Music for Biscuits, a collection of long-forgotten commercials and library music tracks from the Mike Sammes Singers (better known in more traditionally minded pop music circles for their performances on various late-era Beatles tracks including "I Am the Walrus" and "Good Night"). In this context, the small handful of newer recordings, such as Jonny Trunk's own sampledelic groove "Zeus" and the live "Hula Saw" by Bill Posters Will Be Banned (featuring the Bonzo Dog Band's Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell on an exquisite musical saw solo) fit beautifully, updating the casual sophistication and wry humor at the heart of Trunk Records. Fair warning: the purchase of this budget-priced sampler will likely lead to the quick purchase of more Trunk Records releases, followed eventually by the scouring of used record stores and for copies of their out of print limited-edition rarities. It's like Pillows & Prayers for modern-day hepcats.

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