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
1:38 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 5:11 pm

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All Songs Considered
7:53 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 10:15 am

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All Songs Considered
10:03 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 12:54 pm

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
11:09 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 10:43 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
8:03 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 12:26 pm

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
11:03 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 4:26 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
10:18 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 4:07 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
11:03 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 10:36 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
8:03 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
11:47 am
Tue November 4, 2014

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

Originally published on Tue November 4, 2014 12:22 pm

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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Monkey See
5:04 pm
Mon November 3, 2014

Pop Culture Happy Hour, Small Batch: Taylor Swift's '1989'

NPR

In terms of sheer commercial heft, the release of Taylor Swift's 1989 is one of the stories of the year in music: Its first-week sales are expected to outstrip those of any album since Swift's last record, Red, in 2012. For the 24-year-old singer-songwriter, 1989 completes her transformation from country stardom to pop stardom; it's full of massively radio-friendly, synth-driven songs that are virtually guaranteed chart-topping ubiquity in the months and years to come.

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All Songs Considered
9:07 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 3:03 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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Monkey See
8:03 am
Fri October 31, 2014

Pop Culture Happy Hour: 'Dear White People' And The State Of Animation

NPR

With Linda Holmes on vacation during this week's taping, we turn to a pair of dear familiar faces in Code Switch's Gene Demby and Kat Chow. As race and culture bloggers for NPR, they've got a few opinions about our first topic this week: the film Dear White People, which satirizes black campus life at a fictional Ivy League university.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
9:36 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
11:30 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 9:46 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
8:03 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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Monkey See
8:03 am
Fri October 24, 2014

Pop Culture Happy Hour: 'Whiplash' And Carbon Dating

NPR

Originally published on Fri October 24, 2014 10:43 am

About half a second after this episode taped, intrepid Pop Culture Happy Hour host Linda Holmes commenced a long-awaited, much-ballyhooed vacation. I can't say for sure that her car wasn't warming up in the NPR parking garage the entire time, but I can confirm the presence of a Linda Holmes-shaped vapor trail following the words, "back here next week."

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All Songs Considered
1:13 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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Monkey See
8:03 am
Thu October 23, 2014

Pop Culture Happy Hour, Small Batch: Announcing Our Biggest Live Show Yet

NPR

If you've followed the history of Pop Culture Happy Hour live shows, you know that they have a history of selling out quickly. Our last D.C. appearance, at NPR's Studio 1, sold out in two minutes, while our New York debut, at Brooklyn's Bell House, sold out in 10 seconds. I say this not to brag — heaven forfend! — but to acknowledge that we haven't done a great job making our live tapings available to everyone who wishes to attend.

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