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.

Any given Rufus Wainwright album brings with it a wealth of backstory to unpack: The singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist has never shied away from grandiose ambitions, concepts and sounds, and he's rarely followed a predictable path in a career spanning nearly two decades. (His most recent album, after all, is a recording of Wainwright's debut opera, Prima Donna.) But this one's a doozy, even by his standards.

Last fall in New York City, NPR Music recorded a blistering concert by Palehound, in which singer, songwriter and guitarist Ellen Kempner presided over a string of tense and evocative songs about overcoming doubt and, when necessary, spitting venom.

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.

Quick announcement, before we get started: During the month of April, Pop Culture Happy Hour will be available a day early, exclusively in the NPR One app. Nothing else will change; the show will otherwise appear in your feeds and on this site first thing Friday morning. But for those who use NPR One, or who've been thinking about trying it, you'll get a little head start.

Charles Bradley took the stage at Stubb's BBQ in Austin, Texas, Wednesday night, clad in an amazing, rhinestone-bedecked jacket that made his cuffs and collar sparkle like diamonds. Not for nothing is he known as "the screaming eagle of soul."

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.


In concert, Andrew Bird attracts intense adulation — screaming fans, mass sing-alongs, the whole bit — but his records have grown subtler over time. Always a thoughtful songwriter, prone to impeccably chosen words and pristine arrangements, Bird has still found a way to mature and open up in a long career that spans more than a dozen studio albums.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.

Every year, the SXSW Music Festival features thousands of artists from around the world. And every year, The Austin 100 winnows them down to an even hundred discoveries and highlights across genres. Each song on the list is streamable through NPR Music's gorgeous Austin 100 app until March 31, 2017.

At the end of a grueling Academy Awards race, we at Pop Culture Happy Hour like to unwind with a good, long talk we call our "Oscars Omnibus" — a roundup of our thoughts on all the Best Picture nominees, notable acting nominees, and issues and themes surrounding the prior year in movies. This year gave us plenty to chew on, as you can imagine, and as you can hear for yourself on this page.

Sometime tomorrow, Linda Holmes and I will break down Monday night's Grammys telecast in a Small Batch edition of Pop Culture Happy Hour. And, for a variety of reasons, we're not likely to spend much time on the awards themselves.

Finding a songwriting voice takes time — and then there's the process of pinpointing the best way to send that voice hurtling through speakers. Palehound's Ellen Kempner has long had the words: scathing and evocative, certain even when swimming in an ocean of doubt. And with every live show, she's finding surer and surer footing as the central force in a band that marries rock muscle to bedroom folk's wiry vulnerability.

Pop Culture Happy Hour entered this week juggling a couple of problems. For one, a gigantic blizzard had just dumped roughly two feet of snow on the D.C. area, making transportation virtually impossible and, it turns out, stranding Glen Weldon in a Virginia cabin for much of the week. Getting the gang together would be no easy task.

Every year around this time, many of us on the All Songs Considered team — including Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, Ann Powers and me — each dredge through nearly 2,000 MP3s by bands playing the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. And every year, we wind up missing something. In pursuit of music by thousands of bands, hundreds slip past our radar altogether.

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.

A few months ago, Code Switch lead blogger Gene Demby turned to Twitter in an attempt to crowd-source a solution to a problem he'd been having. Gene had begun watching Premier League soccer but couldn't settle on a rooting interest, so he asked the league's fans to convince him to root for one team or another.

Eric Bachmann has reinvented himself several times in the last quarter-century: After breaking through in the '90s, with the jagged, sneering indie rock of Archers Of Loaf — and releasing an album of rock instrumentals as Barry Black — Bachmann took on the name Crooked Fingers, which he's used for solo works, experiments and full-band explorations.

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.

To be a fan in 2016 is to be super-served: If you love a musician today, you're likely to find a complete catalog on streaming services, have the option of falling down YouTube rabbit holes full of bootleg recordings and rare performances, and locate radio and video sessions all over the Internet — a glut of music, available all at once. Project that onto a 10- or 20-year career, and even obsessives can get their fill eventually.

Michigan singer-songwriter Chris Bathgate takes just enough time off between records that he needs to be reintroduced every time he resurfaces. His 2011 album Salt Year followed a four-year gap — watch him perform a few of its songs at the Tiny Desk — while its forthcoming follow-up, an EP called Old Factory, took nearly five.

On paper, Damien Jurado seems like just another sad guy with a guitar, but his discography is incredibly varied: Sure, he's cut his share of sad-guy acoustic ballads, but he's also wandered down an exciting assortment of detours, and his sound has only grown more expansive and searching with time.

Frank Sinatra was born 100 years ago this past Saturday, which at NPR can mean only one thing: an opportunity to talk to the biggest Sinatra superfan we know, business reporter Sonari Glinton, about the singer's formidable legacy.

Baseball is a game of ritual and routine, and traditions aren't adopted lightly. But in the past 20 or so years, major-league stadiums have adopted a system in which each home-team batter takes the plate to his own theme song — usually a piece of popular music announcing his arrival. It's often something brawny and massive, like "Welcome To The Jungle" or the Game Of Thrones theme or any number of Metallica songs, or swaggering, like Aloe Blacc's "I'm The Man." But sometimes, the players throw... well, curveballs.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the checks for people who aren't us is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on music's odd and ever-changing relationship with Canada.

Note: NPR's audio for First Listens comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.

On Sept. 8, Stephen Colbert made his debut in David Letterman's spot as host of CBS's Late Show, a role he took over after Letterman's retirement and the conclusion of his own nine-year run at the helm of Comedy Central's Colbert Report. This week's Pop Culture Happy Hour panel — Glen Weldon, Code Switch lead blogger Gene Demby, super-librarian Margaret H. Willison and me — is unanimous in its fondness for Colbert, but our feelings for The Late Show With Stephen Colbert are mixed.

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