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.

Finding a songwriting voice takes time — and then there's the process of pinpointing the best way to send that voice hurtling through speakers. Palehound's Ellen Kempner has long had the words: scathing and evocative, certain even when swimming in an ocean of doubt. And with every live show, she's finding surer and surer footing as the central force in a band that marries rock muscle to bedroom folk's wiry vulnerability.

Pop Culture Happy Hour entered this week juggling a couple of problems. For one, a gigantic blizzard had just dumped roughly two feet of snow on the D.C. area, making transportation virtually impossible and, it turns out, stranding Glen Weldon in a Virginia cabin for much of the week. Getting the gang together would be no easy task.

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.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

A few months ago, Code Switch lead blogger Gene Demby turned to Twitter in an attempt to crowd-source a solution to a problem he'd been having. Gene had begun watching Premier League soccer but couldn't settle on a rooting interest, so he asked the league's fans to convince him to root for one team or another.

Eric Bachmann has reinvented himself several times in the last quarter-century: After breaking through in the '90s, with the jagged, sneering indie rock of Archers Of Loaf — and releasing an album of rock instrumentals as Barry Black — Bachmann took on the name Crooked Fingers, which he's used for solo works, experiments and full-band explorations.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

To be a fan in 2016 is to be super-served: If you love a musician today, you're likely to find a complete catalog on streaming services, have the option of falling down YouTube rabbit holes full of bootleg recordings and rare performances, and locate radio and video sessions all over the Internet — a glut of music, available all at once. Project that onto a 10- or 20-year career, and even obsessives can get their fill eventually.

Michigan singer-songwriter Chris Bathgate takes just enough time off between records that he needs to be reintroduced every time he resurfaces. His 2011 album Salt Year followed a four-year gap — watch him perform a few of its songs at the Tiny Desk — while its forthcoming follow-up, an EP called Old Factory, took nearly five.

On paper, Damien Jurado seems like just another sad guy with a guitar, but his discography is incredibly varied: Sure, he's cut his share of sad-guy acoustic ballads, but he's also wandered down an exciting assortment of detours, and his sound has only grown more expansive and searching with time.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the checks for people who aren't us is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on music's odd and ever-changing relationship with Canada.

Note: NPR's audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the assortment of coloring books for grownups is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts for an engaged couple who can't decide on their first wedding dance.

Note: NPR's audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

On Sept. 8, Stephen Colbert made his debut in David Letterman's spot as host of CBS's Late Show, a role he took over after Letterman's retirement and the conclusion of his own nine-year run at the helm of Comedy Central's Colbert Report. This week's Pop Culture Happy Hour panel — Glen Weldon, Code Switch lead blogger Gene Demby, super-librarian Margaret H. Willison and me — is unanimous in its fondness for Colbert, but our feelings for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert are mixed.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside a new Wii U game that cost more than our gas bill is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts for parents who seek the mental energy to love music the way they used to.

Irish singer-songwriter Glen Hansard has proven incredibly versatile throughout a career spanning more than 25 years. In The Frames, he's mixed vein-bulging intensity, string-laden elegance and a rock star's flair for rafter-shaking anthems.

Last week, when Linda Holmes, Glen Weldon and I gathered to talk about the great summer entertainment we'd neglected to discuss on the show, we came to a realization mid-taping: All three of us had been watching, and loving, the USA Network series Mr. Robot, which aired the last episode of its first season Wednesday night. (It's already been renewed for a second season.)

It's one thing for Low to have made a rewarding career of spare, dramatic, glacially paced music — for song after slow-moving song to have been constructed out of little more than crystalline guitar lines, minimal bass, maybe a few effects here and there, brushes of snare and the alternating or intertwined voices of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker.

[You can hear Stephen Thompson and Linda Holmes chat about the VMAs on a Small Batch edition of Pop Culture Happy Hour by hitting the play button at the top of this post.]

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the T-shirt we bought to express our love of goats is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on side projects.

Lou Barlow's circuitous path as a recording artist has taken him through key roles in Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr., not to mention The Folk Implosion, which cracked the pop charts with "Natural One" back in the '90s.

Linda Holmes is finally back from two and a half weeks cooped up in an L.A. hotel for the Television Critics Association's press tour, but her return coincides with Glen Weldon's vacation, so Linda and I are joined by two guest panelists this week: All Things Considered cohost Audie Cornish and Code Switch blogger Gene Demby.

Beach House works with a simple set of ingredients — a few vintage keyboards, programmed drums, an electric guitar and the drowsily alluring voice of Victoria Legrand — to evoke a specific tone that rarely varies. And yet Depression Cherry, the Baltimore duo's fifth album in the last decade, still feels vibrant and versatile. There's sticking to a formula that works, and then there's teasing out its subtleties in surprising, consistently rewarding ways.

Given the timing of Kacey Musgraves' appearance in the NPR offices — the Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage across America mere hours earlier — it was inevitable that the singer would trot out "Follow Your Arrow," the most anthemic go-your-own-way jam on Musgraves' 2013 debut album, Same Trailer Different Park.

In the first two episodes of The Giant Foam Finger — a new, sports-themed offshoot of Pop Culture Happy Hour — NPR Code Switch blogger Gene Demby and I have discussed one play in a decade-old NFL game, and we've tackled the phenomenon of fan hatred.

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