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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Monkey See
8:03 am
Fri July 3, 2015

Pop Culture Happy Hour No. 250: 'Magic Mike XXL' And 'Catastrophe'

Joe Manganiello in Magic Mike XXL.
Claudette Barius Warner Brothers

Just a little less than five years ago, Linda Holmes and I decided to book a studio after-hours and record what we'd call "an audio experiment" — a roundtable discussion of pop culture with the two of us and our pals Trey Graham and Glen Weldon, produced by the essential Mike Katzif. By the time the first recording was complete, we'd decided to come back every week, even though our budget was zero and we'd never asked our bosses for permission.

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Songs We Love
9:03 am
Wed July 1, 2015

Song Premiere: Mimicking Birds, 'Dead Weight'

Mimicking Birds.
Ben Moon Courtesy of the artist

For years, Nate Lacy's Mimicking Birds project has been linked to his friends and colleagues in Modest Mouse. That band's singer, Isaac Brock, released both of Mimicking Birds' terrific studio albums on his Glacial Pace label, and both groups are scheduled to tour together in August.

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All Songs TV
9:41 am
Tue June 30, 2015

First Watch: Glen Hansard, 'Winning Streak'

Glen Hansard.
Danny Clinch Courtesy of the artist

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All Songs TV
7:35 pm
Fri June 26, 2015

Kacey Musgraves Sings One For Marriage Equality

Kacey Musgraves ends her Tiny Desk Concert with "Follow Your Arrow" in honor of the same-sex marriage ruling.
Lydia Thompson NPR

Originally published on Fri June 26, 2015 8:54 pm

Country singer Kacey Musgraves opened this Friday's Tiny Desk Concert with four charming songs from her new album, Pageant Material, which we'll post online soon. But she couldn't possibly skip "Follow Your Arrow" on the very day the Supreme Court handed down its historic ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun June 14, 2015

Review: Bully, 'Feels Like'

Bully's new album, Feels Like, comes out June 23.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 23, 2015 10:04 pm

Alicia Bognanno isn't one for wasted motion: The indefatigable lead singer of Nashville's Bully crafts her songs for maximum impact in minimal time, taking care never to overstay her welcome or overdress her arrangements. Feels Like, the Nashville band's effervescent debut, speeds by in about half an hour, having left behind a trail of two- and three-minute songs that stick in the brain for ages.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Sat June 13, 2015

The Good Listener: Will We Remember Today's Pop Stars In 50 Years?

Will we remember Taylor Swift in 20 years? Well, we've already remembered her for at least nine...
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the mail-order grapefruits that have us pondering the nature of the mail-order-grapefruit business is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on pop music's staying power.

Steven F. writes via Facebook: "Which current music stars will be remembered 20 or 50 years from now, which will be forgotten, and why?"

There are so many quick-twitch responses to this question — and virtually all of them are, at least on some level, wrong.

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All Songs Considered
12:03 am
Tue June 9, 2015

The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach Announces New Album With The Arcs

Dan Auerbach of The Arcs.
Alysse Gafkjen Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 9, 2015 9:36 am

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun June 7, 2015

Review: Walk Off The Earth, 'Sing It All Away'

Walk Off The Earth's new album, Sing It All Away, comes out June 16.
Jiro Schneider Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 23, 2015 10:11 pm

The Canadian pop band Walk Off The Earth has followed a thoroughly modern path to success, starting with the way it broke through on the strength of adorable YouTube covers ("Somebody That I Used To Know" has 165 million views and counting) and continuing through its approach to its own compositions.

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All Songs TV
9:03 am
Tue June 2, 2015

First Watch: Metric, 'Cascades'

YouTube/Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 2, 2015 12:40 pm

(Note: If you have photosensitive epilepsy, this video features strobe effects.)

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Sat May 30, 2015

The Good Listener: Why Do Amusement Parks Still Crank Songs From The '80s?

What's a ferris-wheel ride without the sweet sounds of REO Speedwagon?
Uglinica iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the weekly magazine that seems to show up at least four times per week is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on the playlists at amusement parks.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun May 24, 2015

Review: SOAK, 'Before We Forgot How To Dream'

SOAK's debut album, Before We Forgot How To Dream, comes out June 2.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 23, 2015 10:25 pm

The first words Bridie Monds-Watson sings on her debut album double as a tidy thesis statement: "A teenage heart is an unguided dart." The Irish singer-songwriter, who records under the name SOAK, made Before We Forgot How To Dream while she was still 18 — some of these songs date back to her early teens — so she knows whereof she speaks.

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Monkey See
12:54 pm
Fri May 22, 2015

Pop Culture Happy Hour: For 'Mad Men' And Letterman, A Week Of Goodbyes

Jon Hamm as Don Draper.
Michael Yarish AMC

This week's taping presented us with a few conundrums: Host Linda Holmes had already begun her vacation, while I know jack-all about the seven accumulated seasons of Mad Men, whose finale we were duty-bound to discuss. Our solution involved a pair of our most beloved guest panelists — Gene Demby and, from a studio in L.A., Barrie Hardymon — and a brief interregnum in poor Linda's vacation. (I stayed home and ate snacks.)

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Sat May 16, 2015

The Good Listener: Can I Deflate The Beach Balls At Concerts?

One letter-writer's nightmare scenario.
Shaun Lowe iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the package shipped Next Day Air but addressed to the guy who moved out of our house eight years ago is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: deep thoughts on beach balls at concerts.

Margaret H.W. writes via email: "Why do music festivals seem to hand out beach balls to drunk, high 19-year-olds? If I would like to listen to music WITHOUT beach balls, what are my anti-beach-ball options? CAN I DEFLATE THE BEACH BALLS?

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun May 10, 2015

Review: The Milk Carton Kids, 'Monterey'

The Milk Carton Kids' new album, Monterey, comes out May 19.
Sara Kiesling Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 23, 2015 10:38 pm

The Milk Carton Kids' Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan craft soft, timeless ballads in close harmony — and, as such, recall the reverently beautiful likes of Simon & Garfunkel. But, while the duo's first three albums are gorgeous throughout, the studio can have a way of making music just a little too impeccable.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Sat May 9, 2015

The Good Listener: Can A Song Really Save Your Life?

It's easy to imagine music standing between life and death.
Vladimir Vitek iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside a backup pallet of kennel-grade cat sedatives is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: thoughts on when music might stand between life and death.

Ann L. writes via email: "Can a song really save your life?"

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun May 3, 2015

Review: Patrick Watson, 'Love Songs For Robots'

Patrick Watson's new album, Love Songs For Robots, comes out May 12.
Olivier Sirois Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 12, 2015 4:17 pm

For all their intricacy and precision, Patrick Watson's shimmery ballads never lack emotion or intimacy: The Montreal singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and prolific film-score composer puts every tiny sound in its right place, but his perfectionism is deployed for the sake of grace that feels almost otherworldly.

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All Songs Considered
10:03 am
Mon April 27, 2015

Listen To A New Song By Mates Of State

Mates Of State's new EP, You're Going To Make It, comes out June 16.
Shervin Lainez Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon April 27, 2015 11:24 am

Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel aren't the first married couple to write songs about the challenges and celebrations inherent to lifelong love, but few focus more intently on a sense of play. Still, there's nothing naive or unrealistic about their songs: When they sing, "Love loud / Don't lose loud" in 2008's "The Re-Arranger," they're taking care to package a sweet little two-word slogan with a subtle but potent reminder that loving loudly is a job of endless maintenance.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Sat April 25, 2015

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

Leave Nickelback alone!
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 5, 2015 4:11 pm

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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Monkey See
8:03 am
Fri April 17, 2015

Pop Culture Happy Hour: 'Daredevil' And Credulity

NPR

Originally published on Fri April 17, 2015 11:28 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
8:08 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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