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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The Best Music Of 2014
12:38 pm
Tue December 16, 2014

2014: The Year In Tiny Desk Concerts

T-Pain's Tiny Desk Concert has been viewed 6.6 million times on YouTube alone.
Maggie Starbard NPR

Originally published on Wed December 17, 2014 4:11 pm

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All Songs Considered
6:53 am
Thu December 11, 2014

Stephen Thompson's Top 10 Albums Of 2014

Beyonce unleashed the year's grandest and most enduring pop juggernaut (even if it technically came out in 2013).
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu December 11, 2014 9:15 am

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All Songs Considered
9:03 am
Mon December 8, 2014

Song Premiere: San Fermin, 'Parasites'

Ellis Ludwig-Leone of San Fermin.
Denny Renshaw Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon December 8, 2014 11:54 am

San Fermin's self-titled 2013 debut is an intricately composed set of impeccable chamber-folk songs, written in solitude by Ellis Ludwig-Leone and performed by a small army of highly trained ringers. By the time the album came out, Ludwig-Leone had already written a sequel in a similar spirit.

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First Listen
10:09 pm
Sun November 23, 2014

First Listen: She & Him, 'Classics'

She & Him's new album, Classics, comes out Dec. 2.
Autumn De Wilde Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu December 11, 2014 9:43 am

Back in 2011, an album called A Very She & Him Christmas joined the eternal glut of holiday music. As might be expected, it featured a string of agreeably executed staples — "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree," "Silver Bells," et al — played with timeless impeccability by the duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward.

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Sat November 22, 2014

The Good Listener: Do Some Musicians Play Too Well?

Is Yngwie Malmsteen too good at playing guitar for his own good?
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sat November 22, 2014 11:26 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the Pokemon products whose arrival signals our kids' descent into video-game-induced catatonia is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on whether superior technique can detract from music's quality.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun November 16, 2014

First Listen: Flake Music, 'When You Land Here, It's Time To Return'

A remixed, remastered reissue of When You Land Here, It's Time to Return, the 1997 debut album by Flake Music, comes out Nov. 25. Singer James Mercer would later become famous for his work in The Shins and Broken Bells.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue November 25, 2014 3:26 pm

Before James Mercer broke through as lead singer of The Shins, he spent a good chunk of the '90s in a like-minded New Mexico band called Flake Music. The group only managed one full-length album in its five-year existence — 1997's When You Land Here, It's Time to Return — before giving way to the band that made Mercer famous.

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All Songs Considered
9:18 am
Sat November 15, 2014

The Good Listener: For Thanksgiving, Is There Music Everyone Can Agree On?

"I just love this music. Is this Nurse With Wound's collaborative album with Current 93?"
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Sat November 15, 2014 3:07 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the Kung Fu Panda DVD to replace the one we wore out is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on a playlist for the whole family.

Joe writes via email: "Thanksgiving will be at my family's place this year, and I'm having fun with the meal-planning. All the stress, though, is built around how my relatives and I get along. We love each other, but ... you know how families are with politics and different tastes and all that.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun November 9, 2014

First Listen: Thompson, 'Family'

Thompson is, among others, folk musicians Richard and Linda Thompson and their son Teddy. Thompson's new album, Family, comes out Nov. 18.
Linda Thompson Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed November 19, 2014 9:36 am

It's rare that a record lays out a mission statement as efficiently as the new supergroup Thompson does in the first 60 seconds of "Family." Here's Teddy Thompson, singing about the perils of being surrounded by his particular relatives:

My father is one of the greats to ever step on a stage

My mother has the most beautiful voice in the world

And I am betwixt and between

Sean Lennon, you know what I mean

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Sat November 8, 2014

The Good Listener: Am I Too Old To Go To Rock Shows?

Can you be too old for rock 'n' roll?
iStockphoto

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the pulverized shards of an Eli "Paperboy" Reed LP is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on how aging might affect your concert attendance.

Michaela writes via email: "I'm growing increasingly conscious of being among the oldest attendees at concerts lately. Is there a specific age at which I should stop going to indie-rock shows and just stay at home in my rocker?"

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Monkey See
10:47 am
Tue November 4, 2014

Pop Culture Happy Hour, Small Batch: The Rise Of Fan Fiction

Originally published on Tue November 4, 2014 11:22 am

Anna Todd recently signed a six-figure book deal with a Simon & Schuster imprint for her One Direction-themed erotic fan fiction. That sentence will have many different meanings for different people, but consider this: The cover of Todd's book After boasts that the online work from which it's drawn has been viewed a billion times via a service called Wattpad.

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First Listen
11:07 pm
Sun November 2, 2014

First Listen: Damien Rice, 'My Favourite Faded Fantasy'

Damien Rice's new album, My Favourite Faded Fantasy, comes out Nov. 11.
Lilja Birgisdottir Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sun November 16, 2014 7:59 pm

Damien Rice's creative ambition has always outstripped his personal ambition: The Irish singer-songwriter's 2002 debut O yielded many lavish orchestral flourishes, and even a foray into opera near the end, but Rice himself always seemed a reluctant star. After 2006's 9, he quietly retreated from the public eye and relocated to Iceland, barely popping up publicly since, so the arrival of these eight new songs comes as a welcome and periodically thrilling surprise.

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All Songs Considered
8:07 am
Sat November 1, 2014

The Good Listener: How Do I Share Music With My Kids? Should I?

How do you share music with your kids without going overboard?
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Sat November 1, 2014 2:03 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the bales of fan letters for HMSTR is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, tips for new parents who can't wait to share their favorite songs with their kids.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
8:36 am
Thu October 30, 2014

Banks: Tiny Desk Concert

James Clark NPR

Tiny Desk Concerts often require creative and logistical transformations, from electric bands going acoustic to big bands squashing into a tiny space to many players gathering around a single microphone. But the setting is particularly challenging for vocalists, especially those accustomed to heavy production, effects or — in the case of recent guest T-Pain — generous dollops of Auto-Tune.

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First Listen
10:43 pm
Sun October 26, 2014

First Listen: Neil Young, 'Storytone'

Neil Young's new album, Storytone, comes out Nov. 4.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed November 5, 2014 8:46 am

One of Neil Young's recent records, 2009's Fork In The Road, contains nothing but rambling songs about his beloved electric car. Young has generated stacks of live albums — one of which, 1991's Arc, consists of exactly 35 minutes' worth of feedback and noise. Whether he's recording front-porch ballads, anthemic rock, early archival tapes, scathing protest music or even a rock opera, Young has become one of the most uncompromising, unpredictable, unbound and, at times, unearthly brilliant living musicians.

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Sat October 25, 2014

The Good Listener: Where's All The Great Halloween Music?

Dead Man's Bones' 2009 debut belongs in any discussion of Halloween music.
Hama Sanders Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the fake blood we ordered for our son's Andrew W.K. costume is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on Halloween music.

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All Songs Considered
1:06 pm
Thu October 23, 2014

Song Premiere, Robin Bacior, 'If It Does'

Robin Bacior's new album, Water Dreams, comes out Jan. 13.
Kim Smith Miller Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on

Robin Bacior's honeyed but vibrant voice hits gently, bestowing the listener with comfort and calm. The Portland singer-songwriter knows exactly what kind of arrangements suit her best: In "If It Does," from her forthcoming album Water Dreams, that gorgeous voice is laid atop a spare but shimmering bed of piano — and paired perfectly with Dan Bindschedler's cello.

This is subtle, nuanced music: Like the rest of Bacior's work, "If It Does" doesn't grab you audaciously. But it doesn't let go, either.

Here's Bacior, writing about "If It Does":

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First Listen
10:02 pm
Sun October 19, 2014

First Listen: The Flaming Lips, 'With A Little Help From My Fwends'

The Flaming Lips' new album, With A Little Help From My Fwends, comes out Oct. 28.
George Salisbury Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed October 29, 2014 11:44 am

It's hard to divine, on paper anyway, a formula for effectively covering The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in its entirety. It's not an album that had been crying out for improvement — to put it mildly — nor has it ever receded far enough toward the cultural margins to require rediscovery. These songs still occupy the ether of the everyday, even for those who've never sat down and studied the record from front to back.

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Sat October 18, 2014

The Good Listener: How Can I Become A 'Music Person'?

A reader grew up listening to Rick Astley and now needs to know: Is it too late?
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the shoes our kids outgrew in the time it took to have them shipped is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on remedial music fandom.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun October 12, 2014

First Listen: Horse Feathers, 'So It Is With Us'

Horse Feathers' new album, So It Is With Us, comes out Oct. 21.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed October 22, 2014 9:58 am

Late in Horse Feathers' fifth album, So It Is With Us, singer-guitarist Justin Ringle unleashes a provocative little five-word phrase — "softly screaming, 'woe is me'" — that's summed up a lot of the band's music over the past decade. Ringle's songs generally set wearily fatalistic lyrics against a gentle backdrop of strings and banjos and other exquisitely appointed Americana.

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Sat October 11, 2014

The Good Listener: When You Need To Concentrate, Which Music Is Best?

With Twin Peaks coming back in 2016, it's a perfect time to let Angelo Badalamenti's score return to your headphones.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sat October 11, 2014 10:33 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the promotional ghost peppers we unwittingly spilled on our pants is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a request for music to fill your head with sound, but not distractions.

Quint Smith writes via Twitter: "I'd love to see that editing playlist with Stars Of The Lid you mentioned on [Pop Culture Happy Hour] posted somewhere. I'm in need of ideas."

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All Songs Considered
2:20 pm
Mon October 6, 2014

The Lone Bellow, 'Then Came The Morning'

The Lone Bellow's second album, Then Came The Morning, comes out early next year.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed October 29, 2014 10:40 am

Brooklyn's The Lone Bellow seemed to arrive fully formed: Its self-titled 2013 debut came stuffed with intricately assembled bundles of crowd-pleasing folk-pop, each more dramatic and infectious than the last. Charismatic, photogenic, endlessly hooky — The Lone Bellow has been the complete package since day one.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun October 5, 2014

First Listen: Stars, 'No One Is Lost'

Stars' new album, No One Is Lost, comes out Oct. 14.
Shervin Lainez Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed October 15, 2014 10:51 am

Whether playing string-infused melancholia or insistent dance-floor fodder, Stars' members infuse their songs with the weariness and wisdom of someone who understands the realities behind our worst fears. Knowledge of death and disappointment and war lies barely concealed beneath even the most effervescent exterior of a Stars song.

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All Songs Considered
4:50 am
Sat October 4, 2014

The Good Listener: How Do I Avoid 'The iTunes Pit Of Despair'?

The "Playlist" feature will help keep you from losing track of the albums you absolutely must hear.
Stephen Thompson NPR

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the ingredients to an Ozzy Osbourne costume that'll fit a 10-year-old girl is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on managing a library while maintaining one's connection to music.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun September 28, 2014

First Listen: Foxygen, '...And Star Power'

Foxygen's new album, ...And Star Power, comes out Oct. 14.
Cara Robbins Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed October 15, 2014 10:41 am

When LPs and cassettes gave way to compact discs in the late '80s and early '90s, many bands seized on the format's 80-minute time limit as a challenge: If a disc can hold that much music, the thought process went, then why shouldn't it? This led to some legendarily bloated albums, as well as an increased tendency to tuck in tossed-off bonus tracks after 20- and 30-minute blocks of silence, until cooler heads and quality control (mostly) prevailed.

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All Songs Considered
6:54 am
Sat September 27, 2014

The Good Listener: When Was Pop Music At Its Lowest Point?

We like his early stuff better, before he sold out and joined The Stray Mob.
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and among the Penzeys Spices catalogs that help us remember our ex-roommates' names is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on pop music's nadir.

Josh in Chicago writes via email: "Paula Abdul had four No. 1 hits, spanning 1989-90. One of them featured a rapping cartoon cat. Was that period the nadir of pop, pre-Nirvana?"

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Sat September 20, 2014

The Good Listener: Saying No To 'Songstress' And Other Forbidden Words

Sarah McLachlan gets called a "songstress" a lot. Translation: "Look everyone, a lady is singing a song!"
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sat September 20, 2014 10:31 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the unsolicited phone books we toss straight into the recycling bin is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on words we'd prefer never to hear associated with music.

Eleanor writes via email: "You've tweeted about your hatred of the word 'songstress.' Writing about music is tricky, but what words do you think should ALWAYS be avoided, and why?"

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun September 14, 2014

First Listen: Sondre Lerche, 'Please'

Sondre Lerche's new album, Please, comes out Sept. 23.
Marius Hauge Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed September 24, 2014 9:34 am

For more than a decade, Norwegian-born singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche has made pop music his primary weapon in a full-frontal charm offensive. A slyly charismatic presence, he sings with an air of playful whimsy — it's no mistake that he was cast to write and perform the songs in the lightly melancholy 2007 romantic comedy Dan In Real Life — even when his subject matter veers into love's sordid underbelly and aftermath.

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All Songs Considered
4:33 am
Sat September 13, 2014

The Good Listener: Do You Ever Just Get Sick Of Music?

Maybe the release of a new U2 album isn't cause to declare the death of all music.
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the Amazon Prime order containing items we could have acquired at the nearest vending machine is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on fatigue and embitterment.

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All Songs Considered
5:11 am
Sun September 7, 2014

The Good Listener: Where Are All The Great Songs About Football?

No, "The Super Bowl Shuffle" does not count.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sun September 7, 2014 10:55 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside a stuffed Pikachu the size of an ottoman is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on music to accompany the new football season.

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