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 "So Here We Are," a lovely song from Gordi's Clever Disguise EP, the Australian singer-songwriter's voice is heavily manipulated with a vocoder. The result, as it so often does, feels both alien and intimate.

With Pop Culture Happy Hour's fall tour and the 2016 elections behind us — though the latter hadn't taken place at the time of this taping — now's a fine time to dig into a pair of movies dominating the year-end landscape. With host Linda Holmes off on a much-deserved vacation, Glen Weldon and I recently sat down with Code Switch's Kat Chow and Gene Demby to discuss two very different fall movies: Doctor Strange and Moonlight.

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


For nearly 20 years, guitarist, singer and label head John Dwyer has followed an incredibly circuitous creative path: Charting the course of just one of his bands involves breaking down a discography that includes records by Orinoka Crash Suite, OCS, Orange County Sound, The Ohsees, The Oh Sees and, now, Thee Oh Sees. (This says nothing of his work with other groups around San Francisco, most notably Coachwhips.)

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.

The twists and turns of the 2016 election — not to mention the characters at the top of each major-party ticket — provide many opportunities for comedy. But it's tough out there for late-night joke-makers, who face more competition than ever, not to mention a social-media landscape in which seemingly every possible quip is being made in real 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.

Blind Pilot and the Tiny Desk series both launched in the same year, 2008, so it's hard to comprehend how the two hadn't converged until now: The band's shimmery folk-pop sound, with its vibraphone and overarching vibrancy, is perfectly suited to the space behind Bob Boilen's desk.

It's common practice for musicians to sing the struggles of everyday people: underdogs and strivers who work for the weekend, love and protect their families, and struggle to stay one step ahead of the boss and the bill collector. But everyday people aren't monolithic, and some stories are told far more often than others.

The first time I saw Haley Bonar in concert, she and her band were performing at the base of a 54-foot Doritos vending machine — a dehumanizing corporate venue of the variety that occasionally surfaces at SXSW. Somehow, though, her wry, spiky spark found a way to shine through.

Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez met as a songwriting team in Nashville, only to move to L.A., get married and have a baby. Those may scan as simple biographical details, but every one of them is reflected in the music the two make together under the name Johnnyswim. Their sparkly pop songs exude L.A.

With both Mazzy Star and her band The Warm Inventions, singer Hope Sandoval has helped perfect an impeccably shimmering sound that's ideally suited to her gorgeous, approachable voice.

[In case you haven't heard, Pop Culture Happy Hour is about to embark on a West Coast tour. San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles are sold out — though we recently added an appearance (with Guy Branum!) at the Now Hear This podcast festival in Anaheim on Oct. 29 — but we'll also be in Portland on Oct. 19 with our dear pal Audie Cornish.

Ever since his early teens, songwriting has come fairly quickly to Conor Oberst. Whether as a solo artist, with Bright Eyes, in Desaparecidos, or in the supergroup Monsters Of Folk, he's stayed steadily prolific while performing with nervy intensity at every stop on his winding and unpredictable career path.

Dirty Projectors' early career opened a virtual fire hydrant of ideas: albums overstuffed with sound and chaos, reined in by real artistry, released in rapid succession. But as bandleader David Longstreth honed his vision, the hydrant's flow has given way to a trickle. It's been more than four years since the last new Dirty Projectors album, Swing Lo Magellan, and Longstreth himself has stayed largely out of the public eye.

[In case you haven't heard, Pop Culture Happy Hour is embarking on a West Coast tour! San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles are sold out — though we recently added an appearance (with Guy Branum!) at the Now Hear This podcast festival in Anaheim on Oct. 29 — but we'll also be in Portland on Oct. 19 with our dear pal Audie Cornish.

[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.

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