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
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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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun April 12, 2015

Review: San Fermin, 'Jackrabbit'

San Fermin's new album, Jackrabbit, comes out April 21.
Denny Renshaw Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 11:26 am

San Fermin's 2013 debut brims over with ideas: The brainchild of one guy, classically trained Brooklyn composer and multi-instrumentalist Ellis Ludwig-Leone, it's a nearly hourlong feast of gorgeous chamber-pop storytelling.

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Monkey See
1:06 pm
Wed April 8, 2015

Small Batch Edition: Remembering Stan Freberg

Satirist Stan Freberg, right, and his wife, Hunter.
Matt Sayles AP

Stan Freberg, who died Tuesday at 88, was a pioneer in music, comedy and advertising. His resume is peppered with firsts and lasts: He was the last radio-only network variety-show host, the first pop-music satirist (Spike Jones had made song parodies, but Freberg's works commented on the performance styles and the culture surrounding them), and a visionary in the art of incorporating humor into TV and radio commercials.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun April 5, 2015

Review: Villagers, 'Darling Arithmetic'

Villagers' new album, Darling Arithmetic, comes out April 14.
Andrew Whitton Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 14, 2015 11:54 am

Villagers began as a lush one-man band with 2010's Becoming A Jackal, then morphed into an even more complex collaborative effort in time for 2013's {Awayland}, as Dublin singer-songwriter Conor O'Brien learned to work with a team he'd assembled.

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All Songs Considered
4:52 am
Sat April 4, 2015

The Good Listener: Have All The Good Songs Been Written?

Even Robert Johnson was synthesizing old ideas in new ways.
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside an assortment of expensive cat sedatives is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on whether all the great song ideas have been used up.

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SXSW Music Festival
10:46 am
Fri April 3, 2015

TV On The Radio, Live In Concert: SXSW 2015

TV On The Radio headlined NPR Music's SXSW showcase at Stubb's on Wednesday, March 18, 2015.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri April 3, 2015 4:54 pm

Some concerts build gradually, tentatively, until they reach an encore full of rousing classics. Others open at full blast and somehow find ways to open the throttle from there. As TV On The Radio began closing out NPR Music's SXSW showcase, held at Stubb's BBQ in Austin, it was clear that no time would be wasted on slow-footing or throat-clearing. From the opening song — "Young Liars," a 2003 favorite that's aged wonderfully — the band unleashed a storm that barely let up in intensity.

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All Songs Considered
10:20 am
Wed April 1, 2015

Song Premiere: Heartless Bastards, 'Gates Of Dawn'

Heartless Bastards' fifth album, Restless Ones, comes out June 16.
Courtney Chavanell Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed July 8, 2015 10:44 am

For Heartless Bastards, rock 'n' roll entails a lot of heavy lifting, most often in the form of hundreds of club shows each year. It's a work ethic reflected on the Ohio-born, Austin-based band's albums, as singer/guitarist/powder-keg Erika Wennerstrom sets her rugged wail against the efforts of musicians churning out muscular blues-rock.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun March 29, 2015

Review: The Mountain Goats, 'Beat The Champ'

The Mountain Goats' new album, Beat the Champ, comes out April 7.
Lissa Gotwals Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 7, 2015 11:46 am

When thinking about populism, it's easy to focus on either the relatable day-to-day struggles of average people — of the majority somewhere in the middle, glorified by so many rootsy tropes — or the more strung-out striving of those at the bottom. In politics and in culture, "the little guy" has typically made it far enough up the ladder to have a voice echoed in anthems and slogans, or else sunk far enough into desperation, homelessness or famine so as to surpass the need for detail entirely.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun March 29, 2015

Review: Waxahatchee, 'Ivy Tripp'

Waxahatchee's new album, Ivy Tripp, comes out April 7.
Michael Rubenstein Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 7, 2015 11:42 am

Waxahatchee began as a vehicle for the raggedly beautiful indie-pop home recordings of Katie Crutchfield, a singer-songwriter who'd appeared in a small assortment of bands in her hometown of Birmingham, Ala. On her 2012 debut, American Weekend, Crutchfield set a narrative tone for the increasingly fleshed-out recordings to follow: She writes from the perspective of one who's young, keenly intelligent, and both hyper-aware of and overwhelmed by everything that could ever go wrong.

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Monkey See
8:03 am
Fri March 27, 2015

Pop Culture Happy Hour: SXSW And Hometown Cliches

NPR

If you've listened to Pop Culture Happy Hour in the last, say, 12 weeks, you've probably heard me moan about some element of my pre-SXSW workload. So it seemed only fair to indulge in a little discussion of what this year's festival was actually like, complete with scads of music recommendations.

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SXSW Music Festival
1:12 pm
Wed March 25, 2015

Stromae, Live In Concert: SXSW 2015

Stromae proved to the audience at Stubb's in Austin why he's a major star just about everywhere but the U.S.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Wed April 1, 2015 1:49 pm

All over SXSW, kiosks were plastered with posters that posed a provocative question: "Who the hell is Stromae?"

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First Listen
11:07 pm
Sun March 22, 2015

Review: Sufjan Stevens, 'Carrie & Lowell'

Sufjan Steven's new album, Carrie & Lowell, comes out March 31.
Emmanuel Afolabi Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue March 31, 2015 10:39 am

Sufjan Stevens' career has covered vast swaths of thematic ground: To say nothing of his ballet score, his electronic concept record about the Chinese zodiac or his album-length instrumental tribute to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, 2005's Illinois and 2003's Michigan synthesized lessons in state history and geography with finely detailed, tenderly emotional treatises on love, faith, grace, alienation, want and death.

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