Stephen Thompson

Stephen Thompson is an editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he writes the advice column The Good Listener, fusses over the placement of commas and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the weekly NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk.

In 1993, Thompson founded The Onion's entertainment section, The A.V. Club, which he edited until December 2004. In the years since, he has provided music-themed commentaries for the NPR programs Weekend Edition Sunday, All Things Considered and Morning Edition, on which he earned the distinction of becoming the first member of the NPR Music staff ever to sing on an NPR newsmagazine. (Later, the magic of AutoTune transformed him from a 12th-rate David Archuleta into a fourth-rate Cher.) Thompson's entertainment writing has also run in Paste magazine, The Washington Post and The London Guardian.

During his tenure at The Onion, Thompson edited the 2002 book The Tenacity of the Cockroach: Conversations with Entertainment's Most Enduring Outsiders (Crown) and copy-edited six best-selling comedy books. While there, he also coached The Onion's softball team to a sizzling 21-42 record, and was once outscored 72-0 in a span of 10 innings. Later in life, Thompson redeemed himself by teaming up with the small gaggle of fleet-footed twentysomethings who won the 2008 NPR Relay Race, a triumph he documents in a hard-hitting essay for the book This Is NPR: The First Forty Years (Chronicle).

A 1994 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Thompson now lives in Silver Spring, Md., with his two children, four cats and a room full of vintage arcade machines. His hobbies include watching reality television without shame, eating Pringles until his hand has involuntarily twisted itself into a gnarled claw, using the size of his Twitter following to assess his self-worth, touting the immutable moral superiority of the Green Bay Packers and maintaining a fierce rivalry with all Midwestern states other than Wisconsin.

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Sat April 25, 2015

The Good Listener: Why Do People Hate Nickelback So Much?

Leave Nickelback alone!
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside flyers that assume we have the means to acquire luxury items is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: thoughts on the intensity of online backlash.

Andy S. writes via email: "Why do certain bands get singled out for seemingly out-of-proportion online hate? (See: Nickelback.)"

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Sat April 18, 2015

The Good Listener: How Much Should I Tip A Street Musician?

Tipping is customary for good service.
iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside bales of deep-discounted Easter candy is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on buskers, tipping and etiquette.

Holly R. writes via email: "How much of a tip is good for the street-side musician with a cup at his feet? What about for one playing in a bar?"

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Monkey See
7:03 am
Fri April 17, 2015

Pop Culture Happy Hour: 'Daredevil' And Credulity

NPR

Originally published on Fri April 17, 2015 10:28 am

Last Friday, Netflix dropped its latest 13-episode bundle of original programming: the grim and occasionally grisly superhero drama Daredevil, based on the Marvel Comics mainstay of the same name. Starring Charlie Cox and a large supporting cast, the show takes place in a bleak New York City neighborhood that's ruled by a murderous crime syndicate and defended by blind lawyer Matt Murdock, whose other heightened senses make him an oft-overmatched but extremely resourceful crime-fighter.

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Front Row
7:08 am
Wed April 15, 2015

Shamir, Live In Concert: SXSW 2015

Shamir performed songs from his upcoming album, Ratchet, at NPR Music's SXSW showcase at Stubb's on Wednesday, March 18, 2015.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Shamir is best known for his buoyant, elastic electro-pop-rap song "On The Regular," but his live shows careen in altogether different directions. For one, the 20-year-old Las Vegas native sings far more often than he raps, with a high but rich voice versatile enough to accommodate Sylvester-esque disco, sleekly modern pop and robust funk.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun April 12, 2015

Review: San Fermin, 'Jackrabbit'

San Fermin's new album, Jackrabbit, comes out April 21.
Denny Renshaw Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 10:26 am

San Fermin's 2013 debut brims over with ideas: The brainchild of one guy, classically trained Brooklyn composer and multi-instrumentalist Ellis Ludwig-Leone, it's a nearly hourlong feast of gorgeous chamber-pop storytelling.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun April 5, 2015

Review: Villagers, 'Darling Arithmetic'

Villagers' new album, Darling Arithmetic, comes out April 14.
Andrew Whitton Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 14, 2015 10:54 am

Villagers began as a lush one-man band with 2010's Becoming A Jackal, then morphed into an even more complex collaborative effort in time for 2013's {Awayland}, as Dublin singer-songwriter Conor O'Brien learned to work with a team he'd assembled.

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All Songs Considered
3:52 am
Sat April 4, 2015

The Good Listener: Have All The Good Songs Been Written?

Even Robert Johnson was synthesizing old ideas in new ways.
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside an assortment of expensive cat sedatives is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on whether all the great song ideas have been used up.

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SXSW Music Festival
9:46 am
Fri April 3, 2015

TV On The Radio, Live In Concert: SXSW 2015

TV On The Radio headlined NPR Music's SXSW showcase at Stubb's on Wednesday, March 18, 2015.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri April 3, 2015 3:54 pm

Some concerts build gradually, tentatively, until they reach an encore full of rousing classics. Others open at full blast and somehow find ways to open the throttle from there. As TV On The Radio began closing out NPR Music's SXSW showcase, held at Stubb's BBQ in Austin, it was clear that no time would be wasted on slow-footing or throat-clearing. From the opening song — "Young Liars," a 2003 favorite that's aged wonderfully — the band unleashed a storm that barely let up in intensity.

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All Songs Considered
9:20 am
Wed April 1, 2015

Song Premiere: Heartless Bastards, 'Gates Of Dawn'

Heartless Bastards' fifth album, Restless Ones, comes out June 16.
Courtney Chavanell Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 1:04 pm

For Heartless Bastards, rock 'n' roll entails a lot of heavy lifting, most often in the form of hundreds of club shows each year. It's a work ethic reflected on the Ohio-born, Austin-based band's albums, as singer/guitarist/powder-keg Erika Wennerstrom sets her rugged wail against the efforts of musicians churning out muscular blues-rock.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun March 29, 2015

Review: The Mountain Goats, 'Beat The Champ'

The Mountain Goats' new album, Beat the Champ, comes out April 7.
Lissa Gotwals Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 7, 2015 10:46 am

When thinking about populism, it's easy to focus on either the relatable day-to-day struggles of average people — of the majority somewhere in the middle, glorified by so many rootsy tropes — or the more strung-out striving of those at the bottom. In politics and in culture, "the little guy" has typically made it far enough up the ladder to have a voice echoed in anthems and slogans, or else sunk far enough into desperation, homelessness or famine so as to surpass the need for detail entirely.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun March 29, 2015

Review: Waxahatchee, 'Ivy Tripp'

Waxahatchee's new album, Ivy Tripp, comes out April 7.
Michael Rubenstein Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 7, 2015 10:42 am

Waxahatchee began as a vehicle for the raggedly beautiful indie-pop home recordings of Katie Crutchfield, a singer-songwriter who'd appeared in a small assortment of bands in her hometown of Birmingham, Ala. On her 2012 debut, American Weekend, Crutchfield set a narrative tone for the increasingly fleshed-out recordings to follow: She writes from the perspective of one who's young, keenly intelligent, and both hyper-aware of and overwhelmed by everything that could ever go wrong.

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SXSW Music Festival
12:12 pm
Wed March 25, 2015

Stromae, Live In Concert: SXSW 2015

Stromae proved to the audience at Stubb's in Austin why he's a major star just about everywhere but the U.S.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Wed April 1, 2015 12:49 pm

All over SXSW, kiosks were plastered with posters that posed a provocative question: "Who the hell is Stromae?"

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First Listen
10:07 pm
Sun March 22, 2015

Review: Sufjan Stevens, 'Carrie & Lowell'

Sufjan Steven's new album, Carrie & Lowell, comes out March 31.
Emmanuel Afolabi Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue March 31, 2015 9:39 am

Sufjan Stevens' career has covered vast swaths of thematic ground: To say nothing of his ballet score, his electronic concept record about the Chinese zodiac or his album-length instrumental tribute to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, 2005's Illinois and 2003's Michigan synthesized lessons in state history and geography with finely detailed, tenderly emotional treatises on love, faith, grace, alienation, want and death.

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First Listen
10:06 pm
Sun March 22, 2015

Review: Death Cab For Cutie, 'Kintsugi'

Death Cab For Cutie's new album, Kintsugi, comes out March 31.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue March 31, 2015 9:41 am

If Death Cab For Cutie's 17-year career has focused on a single overarching theme, it's the process of growing up: fumbling for connection, finding oneself, feeling out the ways human beings do and don't settle into their own skin.

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Front Row
2:35 pm
Sat March 21, 2015

Courtney Barnett, Live In Concert: SXSW 2015

Courtney Barnett performed songs from her new album, Sometimes I Think And Sit And Sometimes I Just Sit, at NPR Music's SXSW showcase on Wednesday, March 18, 2015.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Thu March 26, 2015 12:23 pm

Courtney Barnett made her name with 2013's "Avant Gardener," a deadpan, loosely rambling account of a severe anaphylactic attack. The song, like its counterparts on her early EPs, was many things — wordy, funny, surprising, wittily crafted — but it wasn't forceful.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun March 15, 2015

Review: Laura Marling, 'Short Movie'

Laura Marling's new album, Short Movie, comes out March 24.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue March 24, 2015 1:29 pm

It's hard to believe Laura Marling is only 25 — not just because Short Movie is her fifth album, and not just because she's been singing with wise, almost impatiently weary authority since she was 16. What's especially striking is the way she's allowed her recordings and persona to evolve through so many decisively rendered, fully formed phases. Marling found her voice unusually early in life, but she's also never stopped refining it or discovering new ways to bare its teeth.

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Sat March 14, 2015

The Good Listener: How Can I Experience SXSW Without Actually Going?

Even if you're missing SXSW, lots of people are taking pictures of it for you.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri March 20, 2015 10:45 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside laminates containing SXSW's most coveted VIP party passes, all of which are set to arrive the day after we leave for Austin, is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on SXSW envy.

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Music
7:26 am
Tue March 3, 2015

The Austin 100: A SXSW 2015 Mix

Emma-Lee Moss, a.k.a. Emmy The Great.
Joseph Okpako Redferns via Getty Images

Originally published on Thu April 2, 2015 10:58 pm

There's a lot of music on this page — 100 songs, to be exact, each from an artist worth discovering at this year's SXSW Music Festival. It represents more than six genre-defying hours of music.

Still, we started out with far more to choose from. It took an enormous amount of effort to get here: Thousands of acts play SXSW each year, enough that winnowing them down to 100 required months of seeking, listening, culling and decision-making. What remains are some of SXSW 2015's most thrilling discoveries and highlights.

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SXSW Music Festival
5:08 am
Tue March 3, 2015

The Austin 100

To get ready for SXSW, we listened to A LOT of music. Check out the app we made — and use it to make your own mix!
NPR

Originally published on Thu March 5, 2015 4:32 pm

Put on your headphones and listen to NPR Music's 100 picks from SXSW 2015.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

First Listen
1:38 pm
Thu February 26, 2015

First Listen: Purity Ring, 'Another Eternity'

Purity Ring's new album, Another Eternity, comes out March 3.
Renata Raksha Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue March 3, 2015 1:20 pm

When Purity Ring released its debut album Shrines back in 2012, it came bundled with some of the most ill-defined genre signifiers imaginable, from chillwave to the band's self-deployed "future pop" to the even-less-meaningful "witch house." Now that the Edmonton duo is back with a follow-up, it's time to call it what it is: Like its predecessor, Another Eternity dispenses some of the most ingratiating electro-pop around, simple as that.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun February 15, 2015

First Listen: Screaming Females, 'Rose Mountain'

Screaming Females' new album, Rose Mountain, comes out Feb. 24.
Lance Bangs Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed February 25, 2015 9:04 am

For 10 years, Screaming Females' music has come wailing out of the scruffiest and homiest of venues — basements across its home state of New Jersey, house shows from coast to coast, even NPR's Tiny Desk — in a ragged style befitting the band's lean, raw, punk-informed rock.

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Sat February 14, 2015

The Good Listener: Is It OK To Attend A Concert On A First Date?

Jeez, people. The guy with the acoustic guitar is trying to perform right behind you. Get a room, would you?
iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the boxes of chocolate we bought ourselves to eat alone in the dark on Valentine's Day is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on the collision of concert etiquette and first-date etiquette.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun February 8, 2015

First Listen: Pops Staples, 'Don't Lose This'

Pops Staples' new album, Don't Lose This, comes out Feb. 17.
Paul Natkin Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue February 17, 2015 8:44 am

As the patriarch of the Staple Singers, Roebuck "Pops" Staples presided over some of the most crucial music of the 20th century, as his family band lent a righteous soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement, crafted song standards ("Respect Yourself," "I'll Take You There," et al) and functioned as a cross-genre conscience that spanned soul, gospel, blues, folk and rock music.

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Sat February 7, 2015

The Good Listener: How Can I Avoid Love Songs?

When it seems like every song on earth is about love or its absence, the heartsick need a strategy.
iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the pheromone-laced collars we ordered in the hopes that our cats will stop acting like jerks is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on how the heartsick can avoid songs about love, sex and desire.

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Sat January 24, 2015

The Good Listener: If You Don't Like Music, Do You Have A Soul?

Music isn't for everyone.
Cristian Casanelles iStockphoto

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the tiara we ordered as the grand prize at our upcoming eating contest is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on people who simply don't enjoy music.

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All Songs Considered
1:03 pm
Thu January 22, 2015

Playing SXSW 2015? Send Us Your Songs

Ana Tijoux was a big part of NPR Music's SXSW 2014 coverage. Now, we're preparing for this year's festival.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed January 28, 2015 12:10 pm

Every year around this time, many of us on the All Songs Considered team — including Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, Ann Powers and me — each dredge through nearly 2,000 MP3s by bands playing the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. And every year, we wind up missing something. In pursuit of music by thousands of bands, hundreds slip past our radar altogether.

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Music Interviews
10:54 am
Wed January 21, 2015

'We Can't Just Settle': Broad City Meets Sleater-Kinney

Ebru Yildiz for NPR

In a raucous and revealing panel discussion at New York City's Ace Hotel, the stars and creators of Comedy Central's Broad City interviewed all three members of the newly reunited rock band Sleater-Kinney Friday night.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun January 18, 2015

First Listen: The Lone Bellow, 'Then Came The Morning'

The Lone Bellow's new album, Then Came The Morning, comes out Jan. 27.
Steven Sebring Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue January 27, 2015 11:09 am

The Lone Bellow isn't the first modern band to traffic in grandiose folk-rock uplift, but it's already among the best.

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Music
4:15 pm
Wed January 14, 2015

Thievery Corporation: All Things Considered's In-House Band For A Day

All Things Considered director Monika Evstatieva offers a little last-minute advice to the day's in-house band, Thievery Corporation.
Morgan McCloy NPR

Originally published on Fri January 16, 2015 5:32 pm

If you listen to NPR's newsmagazines, short bits of instrumental music often provide the connective tissue linking one story to the next. We call them buttons or breaks or deadrolls, and each is chosen by the show's director that day. Sometimes the selections make a sly reference to the story they follow — say, a snippet of "Baby Elephant Walk" after a story about elephants — but more often they're there to capture, enhance or brighten the mood while helping the listener differentiate between news pieces.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun January 11, 2015

First Listen: Belle And Sebastian, 'Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance'

Belle And Sebastian's new album, Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, comes out Jan. 20.
Søren Solkær Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed January 21, 2015 9:29 am

Nine albums into a career spanning two decades, Belle And Sebastian resides at a tricky point in its career: Veteran musicians often shed fans rather than accumulating them, as tastes shift, the fickle lose interest and diehards succumb to distractions.

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