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Badass of the Month Club: Terry S. Taylor

4:00 PM on 11.25.2009 // Ashley Davis

Time once more for the Badass of the Month Club, wherein the staff highlights a character or industry figure of noteworthy badassery.

American singer/songwriter Terry Scott Taylor is probably not a name that rings a bell to many people. Over the course of his extremely prolific musical career, he has formed and played with several bands. He has played several different types of music, from country to blues to rock. He has been praised for his songwriting for decades, a great deal of it based on the writings of his favorite authors and poets.

Not only that, but he's one of the most badass videogame music composers ever!

He has done so much with music that the video game soundtracks he is responsible for are merely the tip of the iceberg. But is is an abnormally gigantic bit of glacier. Taylor is the man behind the strange music that fills the klay universe of The Neverhood and Skullmonkeys. Anyone who has played the games should be familiar with their wonderfully strange area themes. Anyone who hasn't is missing out on a very unique auditory experience that is a prime example of what game music should be: an integral part of the game to which it belongs.

Taylor got mixed up in game music composition soon after he collaborated with Earthworm Jim creator Douglas TenNapel in the mid-90s, first commissioned to work on music for a cartoon (the ill-fated Project G.e.e.K.e.R.). TenNapel so admired and enjoyed Taylor's wacky musical stylings that they continued to work together on several projects, a partnership that has continued even to this day. Out of it came soundtracks for The Neverhood, Skullmonkeys and Boombots.

The music of The Neverhood mainly consisted of Taylor strumming an acoustic guitar and mumbling to himself. This may not sound like anything that belongs in a video game, but his offbeat style fits the game's world perfectly. A note in the CD booklet for Neverhood Songs perfectly describes the attitude towards vocals that these songs have: "Should you chose to sing along to any of the following songs, we wish you luck. You're gonna need it."

Fast forward to 3:20 for the amazing.

I feel sort of wrong to ever label the noise that comes from Taylor's mouth as singing; his voice is another instrument, if anything. He can be heard mumbling, humming, whistling, coughing, or making horn noises even on tracks listed as having no vocals. In addition to guitar, the songs were backed up with horns, bass, percussion, and even a little bit of banjo plucking.

The budget for Skullmonkeys was much bigger than that of The Neverhood, which was very apparent in Taylor's compositions. While he was still accompanied by the exact same band as he had for the previous game, what they produced had a much fuller sound. Tribal chanting and pounding drums were used in many of the songs to separate the sound of the Neverhood from that of Planet Idznak, the planet where Skullmonkeys takes place.

The most famous of Skullmonkeys' songs is most likely "The Lil' Bonus Room", which is regarded by many to be one of the most humorous pieces ever composed for a videogame. It is vastly different than the rest of the soundtrack, and a nod back to the more simplistic music of The Neverhood. It is also one of the only songs where Taylor sings clearly, giving listeners a little better insight on his lyrical prowess.

Some prefer the minimalistic style of The Neverhood's soundtrack to the music of Skullmonkeys, but I feel that they're apples and oranges. Taylor is a man who has worked with several different genres of music over the span of his career. While the first showed off his skills in folk and blues, the latter shifted more towards jazz and surf rock. Both are excellent works of art in their own respective ways.

Unfortunately, the last game he worked on, Boombots, was pretty bad in nearly every way. It marked the sad end of his career composing video game music. He still works on other projects with TenNapel, so theoretically, if he ever designed another video game, Taylor would likely have another shot to score a video game. We can only hope!

Regardless, his past works are immortalized in their badassery, and Terry Scott Taylor is a badass by more than association. He is a man who is extremely gifted, musically speaking. He has conquered several different musical genres, headed a plethora of bands, and has made his mark on American music history. He poured his musical prowess and personality into everything he has made, and though his game compositions are only a tiny fraction of the whole, they are some of the most unusual and memorable pieces in video game history.

I mean, just listen to that. It's badass.

Now, some people could care less about music in games. They see it as simple background noise that can and should be easily replaced without taking anything away from the game. That's something I never understood, personally; I think a game's soundtrack is as much a part of the whole as its graphics and mechanics.

No games emphasize this point more than The Neverhood and Skullmonkeys, in my opinion. Terry's weird music may not be everyone's cup of tea on its own, but when it is heard where it was meant to be heard, it meshes with everything else to make the Neverhood universe a strange yet believable world. His music didn't have to be sweeping and epic to be memorable, nor did it have to be a chiptune masterpiece to fit in. He just did what he'd always done, and his folky, oddball sound did its job.

Now that you know who he is and what he was responsible for, it should be blatantly obvious why he deserves a spot in Destructoid's Badass of the Month Club. Honor him by going out and procuring a copy of The Neverhood or Skullmonkeys; heck, if you're feeling adventurous and completely obscure, you can give Boombots a shot.

If you've already given the songs context by playing the games, you can try to find a copy of Imaginarium, the awesome CD that contains all of the music Taylor has ever composed for a videogame. Unfortunately, the album is quite rare, but there's always Youtube.

P.S. - The whole reason I decided to write about Taylor this month was because I got distracted from finding a Thanksgiving related badass subject. How? The following song from The Neverhood:

Ashley Davis,
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