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
1:07 pm
Fri April 25, 2014

The Good Listener: Is It OK To Bootleg Concerts?

Phish has a thorough set of policies for fans who want to tape the band's shows.
Jeff Kravitz FilmMagic

Originally published on Fri April 25, 2014 3:31 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the two quart-size tubs of barbecue sauce is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on recording and trading live shows for our private enjoyment.

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First Listen
8:30 am
Mon April 21, 2014

First Listen: Pixies, 'Indie Cindy'

The Pixies new album, Indie Cindy, comes out April 29.
Jay Blakesberg Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 8:40 am

Last year, My Bloody Valentine released its first album since 1991, and the result sounded as if not a minute had passed in the intervening 22 years. Every bleary, bended note of m b v sounded immaculately crafted, as if Kevin Shields and company had been toiling away in pursuit of perfection since the release of Loveless and merely lost track of time.

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All Songs Considered
2:39 pm
Thu April 17, 2014

The Good Listener: Does The World Still Need Cassettes?

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the postage-paid crates we'll use to ship home the spring interns is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on cassette tapes and their utility in 2014.

Jennifer Spuehler writes via Facebook: "Will there be a place for cassette tapes in the future? What should I do with cassette tapes — especially those beloved mixtapes — that don't have a place to live anymore?

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Field Recordings
7:03 am
Thu April 17, 2014

Merchandise Sprawls Out In The Sunlight

Merchandise performing "Become What You Are" for a NPR Field Recording.
NPR

Originally published on Tue July 8, 2014 12:13 pm

Merchandise got its start on the Tampa punk and hardcore scene, then got weirder as artier influences like krautrock took hold. As its sound became harder to pin down, the band inspired an 18-month bidding war between record labels: This year, Merchandise finally signed with 4AD, and adventurous new material has begun to trickle out.

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All Songs Considered
3:52 pm
Thu April 10, 2014

The Good Listener: How Do I Appear Knowledgeable Without Acting Like A Jerk?

Jack Black in a scene from the 2003 film School Of Rock
Andrew Schwartz PARAMOUNT

Originally published on Thu April 10, 2014 4:25 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the fliers for yard-cleaning services that know a big job when they see one are a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on ways to drop musical knowledge without seeming obnoxious.

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All Songs Considered
2:19 pm
Thu April 3, 2014

The Good Listener: What Makes An Anthem?

The Boss: Maker of anthems for the young, for the old, forever.
Courtesy of the artist

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All Songs Considered
1:16 pm
Thu March 27, 2014

The Good Listener: Am I Too Old For Music Festivals?

At some point, you'll probably feel like you're too old to attend a music festival.
20th Century Fox

Originally published on Thu March 27, 2014 4:04 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the hundreds of water bottles we were supposed to give away at SXSW is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on when a person can rightly be considered too old to attend music festivals.

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Field Recordings
11:17 am
Thu March 27, 2014

One Wytch, Unplugged In A Sunny Backyard

Mito Habe-Evans NPR

Originally published on Mon August 18, 2014 8:30 am

The Wytches' furious, hair-flinging psych-rock isn't the stuff of back-porch acoustic sessions: Both live and on the English band's singles, the energy is so intense, it can barely be contained. But when NPR Music arranged a Wytches session during SXSW — held in the charming backyard setting of Friends & Neighbors in east Austin — singer-guitarist Kristian Bell stood in for the whole band, with just his voice and an acoustic guitar.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun March 23, 2014

First Listen: Cloud Nothings, 'Here And Nowhere Else'

Cloud Nothings new album, Here and Nowhere Else, comes out April 1.
Pooneh Ghana Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 1, 2014 1:13 pm

The word "maturation" and the word "punk" don't often coexist easily: For a band like Cleveland's Cloud Nothings, whose sloppily aggressive songs channel slackerdom and frustration, growing up would seem antithetical to its mission. But the group's third album, Here and Nowhere Else, threads the needle just right, tightening and brightening Cloud Nothings' sound in ways that never numb its blistering, careening forcefulness.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun March 23, 2014

First Listen: Timber Timbre, 'Hot Dreams'

Timber Timbre's new album, Hot Dreams, comes out April 1.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 1, 2014 1:13 pm

Timber Timbre's members tiptoe across some strange boundaries: Atop atmospheric sound beds that often conjure spaghetti Westerns, Taylor Kirk's dusky croon can seem seductive, inviting and, when he prefers, deeply creepy. It's a voice that can embody Halloween itself — Timber Timbre is self-aware enough to have titled its last album Creep On Creepin' On — and yet Kirk possesses the versatility to sing sweet ballads with Feist on the side.

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SXSW: Live From Austin
12:45 pm
Thu March 20, 2014

SXSW 2014: Perfect Pussy, Live In Concert

Perfect Pussy's Meredith Graves performs during NPR Music's SXSW showcase.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 8:08 am

Before her band had played a single note, frontwoman Meredith Graves surveyed a thousands-strong crowd packing Stubb's BBQ at NPR Music's 2014 SXSW showcase.

"We're Perfect Pussy," she said. "We're terrified."

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SXSW: Live From Austin
11:38 am
Tue March 18, 2014

SXSW 2014: Eagulls, Live In Concert

British post-punk band Eagulls performs at NPR Music's SXSW showcase.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 8:06 am

The Leeds-based post-punk band Eagulls hit the stage at Stubb's BBQ in Austin, Texas, ready to deploy some serrated weaponry. From neatly attired singer George Mitchell's assured yelp to a guitar attack that's clean and direct, the group generated a stormy sound that roared and banged with sleekness and power, while hinting at the doomstruck beauty of forebears like Joy Division.

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All Songs Considered
7:06 am
Thu March 6, 2014

The Good Listener: Do I Come To SXSW If I Don't Have A Badge Or A Billion Dollars?

Whether you buy a $795 badge or show up with a little spare cash on hand, SXSW has something for you — and will expect you to stand in line at some point.
Katie Hayes Luke for NPR

[This story originally ran on Feb. 22, 2013, but still applies today.]

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the Valentine's Day cards that got returned with no forwarding address is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how music fans could and should approach SXSW, the gigantic music festival held every March in Austin, Texas.

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All Songs Considered
1:23 pm
Fri February 21, 2014

The Good Listener: For Bands And Fans, The No-Fault Divorce

Elton John performs in 2013. Earlier that year, he put out his 31st studio album, The Diving Board.
Mike Lawrie Getty Images

Originally published on Fri February 21, 2014 6:03 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the Beck single that keeps tricking us into thinking it's the new Beck album are a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on when superfans sever their allegiances.

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First Listen
8:58 am
Mon February 17, 2014

First Listen: The Notwist, 'Close To The Glass'

The Notwist's new album, Close to the Glass, comes out Feb. 25.
Joerg Koopman Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed February 26, 2014 2:17 pm

On paper, the German electro-pop band The Notwist sounds less accessible than it is: Since getting together 25 years ago, its members have delved into everything from hardcore to underground hip-hop to proggy jazz, with many varyingly arty detours in between. But the latter half of its history, particularly once you hit the sublime early-'00s breakthrough Neon Golden, is wonderfully warm and approachable.

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First Listen
10:09 pm
Sun February 16, 2014

First Listen: Death Vessel, 'Island Intervals'

Death Vessel's new album, Island Intervals, comes out Feb. 25.
Corey Grayhorse Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed February 26, 2014 2:18 pm

Joel Thibodeau's music doesn't emanate from a single place: The singer who records under the name Death Vessel was born in Germany and raised in New England, and he recorded his new album Island Intervals in Reykjavik with the aid of producer Alex Somers and Sigur Rós singer Jónsi. That list of places provides context beyond mere biographical background, because Thibodeau's music reflects virtually every direction in which he's been pulled.

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All Songs Considered
9:57 am
Fri February 14, 2014

The Good Listener: How Do You Make A Platonic Mixtape?

Not every mixtape has to come with romantic intentions.
The Kobal Collection

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the Fun-Dip valentine cards we ordered strictly for the Fun-Dip is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, just in time for Valentine's Day, thoughts on platonic mixtapes.

Stephanie Marten-Ellis writes via Facebook: "How do you share good music with someone without giving the impression that you're 'trying to say something'? You just like the song and want someone to know about it! Can you separate your music suggestions from how you perceive/think of your share-ee?"

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Tue February 11, 2014

First Listen: Phantogram, 'Voices'

Phantogram's new album, Voices, comes out Feb. 18.
Doron Gild Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue February 18, 2014 1:09 pm

Phantogram plays spiky, dense and danceable pop-rock songs with an electronic pulse: Most of its songs have an insistent grind to them, with a percussive through-line snapping and jabbing and infusing virtually every moment with jumpy urgency. But singer/keyboardist Sarah Barthel and guitarist Josh Carter still let these songs breathe in surprising ways, so that the moments of quiet that slip through — like the spare and surprising piano which pops up at the end of "Black Out Days" — have that much more impact.

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Concerts
11:04 am
Tue February 11, 2014

First Listen Live: Real Estate, 'Atlas'

Real Estate plays Atlas at SubCulture in NYC.
Ebru Yildiz for NPR

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 12:16 pm

The members of Real Estate are awfully young to pine for their lost youth, but nostalgia remains crucial to the New Jersey band's tender, impeccable sound. Real Estate's shimmering pop-rock seems to echo out of the past — from beaches and garages and tape decks — with the kind of melancholy beauty few bands outside The Beach Boys could hope to match.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
1:03 pm
Mon February 10, 2014

Suzanne Vega: Tiny Desk Concert

Suzanne Vega performs at a Tiny Desk concert in January 2014.
Meredith Rizzo Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Originally published on Mon February 10, 2014 1:51 pm

In pop-music circles, Suzanne Vega is known almost entirely for two songs from the late 1980s: the child-abuse ballad "Luka" and a song that launched literally dozens of dance remixes, "Tom's Diner." But Vega has been making vital, inventive music the entire time — much of it folk-based, though her sound has taken many smart detours along the way — and is about to put out her first album of original material in seven years, Tales From the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles.

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All Songs Considered
2:22 pm
Fri February 7, 2014

The Good Listener: What's The Perfect Soundtrack To Teenage Flirtation?

These teenagers in the 1998 film Can't Hardly Wait needed their own nostalgia — which is why today's teenagers might not connect with Can't Hardly Wait the way an earlier generation did.
Columbia Pictures

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the Bachelor Bouquets we ordered ourselves in order to appear loved is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on music to play at a dance for nervous, flirtatious teenagers.

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All Songs Considered
3:13 pm
Thu February 6, 2014

Playing SXSW 2014? Send Us Your Songs

Several of us loved The Soil and the Sun at SXSW 2013 — and we'd have never heard the band if it hadn't sent us an MP3 before the festival.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri February 7, 2014 4:23 pm

Every year around this time, the All Songs Considered team begins the process of listening to nearly 2,000 MP3s by bands playing the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. We acquire them from any number of sources, as bands willing to circulate their songs for consideration make them available online. But 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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First Listen
10:02 pm
Sun February 2, 2014

First Listen: Cibo Matto, 'Hotel Valentine'

Cibo Matto's new album, Hotel Valentine, comes out Feb. 14.
Sean Lennon Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue February 18, 2014 12:52 pm

For many bands who return after long hiatuses, the absences melt away quickly. My Bloody Valentine, gone 22 years, put out an album last year that jumped directly from the sound of 1991's Loveless.

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All Songs Considered
9:46 am
Fri January 31, 2014

The Good Listener: Leave 'We Built This City' Alone!

Everyone piles on Starship's "We Built This City," at least in part, because it's too feeble to fight back.
George Rose Getty Images

Originally published on Fri January 31, 2014 1:47 pm

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First Listen
10:02 pm
Sun January 26, 2014

First Listen: 'Sweetheart 2014'

Sweetheart 2014 comes out Feb. 4.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue February 4, 2014 9:21 am

Compiled by Starbucks every few years, the Sweetheart compilations adhere to a simple concept in which well-liked contemporary artists cover well-liked classic love songs just in time for Valentine's Day. But, more importantly, the collections revolve around a refreshing and consistent mindset: There are no arch piss-takes, no goofs, no skirting sincerity with a wink and a sneer. Even when an effort feels like a minor pairing or a failed experiment, goodwill carries the day.

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First Listen
10:02 pm
Sun January 26, 2014

First Listen: Jeremy Messersmith, 'Heart Murmurs'

Jeremy Messersmith's new album, Heart Murmurs, comes out Feb. 4.
Kyle Dean Reinford Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue February 4, 2014 9:22 am

Minneapolis singer-songwriter Jeremy Messersmith sings sweet, timeless songs about love, desire, death and grief — not, it would seem, the stuff of grandiose artistic ambition. And yet Messersmith stands out by trying harder, doing more and always reaching farther than it seems.

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All Songs Considered
11:44 am
Fri January 24, 2014

The Good Listener: How Can I Conquer A Musical Blind Spot?

Devendra Banhart.
Courtesy of the artist

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First Listen
10:02 pm
Sun January 19, 2014

First Listen: Dum Dum Girls, 'Too True'

Dum Dum Girls' new album, Too True, comes out Jan. 28.
James Orlando Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 9:03 pm

Dee Dee Penny and her band Dum Dum Girls made their name on primitivism, only to demolish the expectations they'd created for themselves. Even the name Dum Dum Girls suggests adherence to the garage-bound basics, and the group's early recordings follow suit. But the new Too True is different: A streamlined record, it borrows the cool, plainspoken efficiency of its predecessors while slickening and smartening the songs themselves.

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First Listen
10:02 pm
Sun January 19, 2014

First Listen: The Autumn Defense, 'Fifth'

The Autumn Defense's new album, Fifth, comes out Jan. 28.
Chloe Aftel Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 9:07 pm

Side projects often provide a chance to take wild left turns; to indulge a desire to experiment outside the formulas dictated by a musician's primary creative outlet. For The Autumn Defense — which features bassist John Stirratt and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, both of Wilco — it's actually a chance to pursue a narrower focus. Where Wilco sprawls, The Autumn Defense drills down to a sweetly straightforward style of classic pop and rock.

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All Songs Considered
1:13 pm
Thu January 16, 2014

The Good Listener: How Do You Know If You'll Love A Song Forever?

Oh, Carly Rae Jepsen. We knew it couldn't last.
Courtesy of the artist

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