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, his girlfriend, their 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.

[In case you haven't heard, Pop Culture Happy Hour is embarking on a West Coast tour! San Francisco and Los Angeles are already sold out — though we've just added an appearance (with Guy Branum!) at the Now Hear This podcast festival in Anaheim on Oct. 29 — but we'll also be in Seattle on Oct. 17 and Portland on Oct.

Sometimes album titles really do say it all: A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings, the second full-length album by the Philly rock band Beach Slang, pulls off exactly what it promises.

"I use the same voice I always have," Hamilton Leithauser sings in the chorus of "Sick As A Dog," and he's got a point: The former Walkmen frontman is instantly identifiable, whether he's singing with his old band, working as a solo artist or, in this case, recording with Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij under the name Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam.

There's not resting on your laurels, and then there's trying on new creative identities as soon as the old ones have begun to pay dividends. Jenn Wasner, best known as the singer and lead guitarist for Wye Oak, could have simply coasted through a long and fruitful career as one of rock's most gripping bandleaders, a shredder whose slurred and alluring vocals articulate a world of worry and self-discovery.

When he first surfaced as a solo artist four or five years ago, singer and multi-instrumentalist K. Ishibashi specialized in piecing together an intricately looped sound, centered on violin samples he'd recorded live, cut to ribbons and re-purposed to head-spinning effect.

[In case you haven't heard, a big announcement: Pop Culture Happy Hour is embarking on a West Coast tour! We'll be in Seattle on Oct. 17 (with Audie Cornish), Portland on Oct. 19 (also with Audie Cornish), San Francisco on Oct. 21 (with Mallory Ortberg), and Los Angeles on Oct. 23 (with Kumail Nanjiani). For ticket information, click here — and remember that all four shows go on sale Tuesday, Sept. 6, at noon Pacific Time.

From breakups to moves to midlife crises, major change has done wonders for the creative process.

As Sylvan Esso, singer Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn craft danceable pop songs that exude an ambivalent, searching quality. Sure, they're catchy as anything, and Meath — a veteran of the a cappella folk group Mountain Man — knows how to command a spotlight. But Sylvan Esso's songs also bear the weight of melancholy, even as Sanborn's springy arrangements send them soaring.

Kentucky singer-songwriter Joan Shelley, working with the gifted guitarist Nathan Salsburg, made my favorite album of 2015: Over And Even, a collection of dreamy, gorgeous folk songs that exude comfort and calm.

Since 1984, MTV has given out awards to honor achievements in the world of music videos.

As Joseph, sisters Allison, Meegan and Natalie Closner sing in tight harmony, fitting stylistically alongside fellow sister acts like First Aid Kit, Haim, The Staves and Lily & Madeleine.

Summer has a way of sending the Pop Culture Happy Hour team hurtling across the country, so this episode required a bit of logistical maneuvering: We actually recorded it several weeks ago, just as Linda Holmes and I were about to jet off on separate West Coast jaunts. Glen Weldon wasn't yet back from Comic-Con, the rest of us aren't in Historic Studio 44... everything's topsy-turvy!

Lisa Hannigan was introduced to the world alongside fellow Irish singer Damien Rice, whose debut album O featured her lilting, haunting voice. In the nearly 15 years since, Hannigan has stepped ever more confidently into a leading role, most notably on her own Sea Sew (2008) and Passenger (2011), but also as a featured performer in the Oscar-winning score for the 2013 film Gravity.

On this week's episode of All Songs Considered, Bob Boilen and guest host Stephen Thompson play new music from Regina Spektor, experimental rap from Clipping, which features Daveed Diggs of Hamilton, and a great synth track from singer-songwriter Lowell.

In honor of MTV's 35th birthday Monday, the network has launched MTV Classic, a new channel featuring programming from the '90s and '00s. On the same day, we also wish a happy birthday to NPR Music and Pop Culture Happy Hour's Stephen Thompson, who celebrates with an interview on All Things Considered about how MTV Classic is redefining which popular culture fits into the current environment for nostalgia.

Over on cable TV and streaming services, summertime doesn't mean an end to critically heralded programming, as evidenced by the recent return of Mr. Robot (on the USA Network) and the launch of Stranger Things (on Netflix). But over on the major networks, lighter fare still dominates, which brings us to ABC's recently launched reboot of the vintage game shows $100,000 Pyramid and Match Game.

The term "coming of age" typically applies to a teenager's passage into adulthood; to the heady stretch of months and years when a child becomes something resembling a fully formed person, with all the growth and responsibility that entails. But there are inherent faults to the premise, starting with the fact that we never really stop coming of age, at least as long as we remain notionally open to our own evolution. We learn from our mistakes, or at least we hope to, and sometimes we backslide as our priorities, dreams and desires shift and settle.

If you've listened to NPR or stepped outside in the last week or so, then you've probably already heard about Pokemon GO, a new "Augmented Reality" app in which players encounter and "catch" Pokemon characters the game has (virtually) situated around their own neighborhoods.

It's been a while since Code Switch correspondent Gene Demby and I gathered in a studio to talk sports for the Pop Culture Happy Hour spinoff we call The Giant Foam Finger. But the stars aligned perfectly this week – thanks, in large part, to the Golden State Warriors' July 4 signing of superstar small forward Kevin Durant, which has led to prolific hand-wringing about the short-term future of pro basketball.

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.

This is our 300th episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour — not counting Small Batch editions, which would drive the number significantly higher — so now's as good a time as any to thank everyone who's listened, supported us both within and outside NPR, and/or appeared on the show itself. We're feeling awfully appreciative that we've been allowed to stick around this long.

Haley Bonar's songs marry fizzy arrangements to cuttingly quotable observations about love, disappointment, identity and the curdling of youth. Her new album, Impossible Dream, finds the underrated Minnesotan in top form, mixing darkness and light with a deft touch.

Welcome, friends, to a discussion featuring four of the only people in America to see Pop Star: Never Stop Never Stopping in theaters last weekend. Though the movie wasn't a box-office hit, to put it lightly, we whip up an extraordinary amount of affection for The Lonely Island's goofy comedy — a lightweight but joke-dense look at "Conner4Real," a vaguely Bieber-esque singer and rapper (Andy Samberg) who used to belong to a boy band called the Style Boyz with Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer.

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.

Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop visited NPR's offices on what may well be 2016's most beautiful day so far: perfectly warm and sunny, uncharacteristically dry, and perfect for lounging happily on the roof deck just around the corner from the Tiny Desk. Hoop and Beam did just that, hanging out amiably for hours after their show ended, as part of one of the most comfortable and relaxing days in the history of NPR Music.

It's been nearly five years since the charming Portland folk-pop band Blind Pilot released its second and most recent album, We Are The Tide, and that record's roiling title track has only recently begun popping up in beer commercials. Given that the band used to tour up and down the West Coast via bicycle, it should come as no surprise that Blind Pilot is accustomed to taking its time.

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.

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