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 the podcasts All Songs Considered and Pop Culture Happy Hour. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the weekly 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 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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First Listen
11:02 pm
Sun January 19, 2014

First Listen: The Autumn Defense, 'Fifth'

The Autumn Defense's new album, Fifth, comes out Jan. 28.
Chloe Aftel Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 10:07 pm

Side projects often provide a chance to take wild left turns; to indulge a desire to experiment outside the formulas dictated by a musician's primary creative outlet. For The Autumn Defense — which features bassist John Stirratt and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone, both of Wilco — it's actually a chance to pursue a narrower focus. Where Wilco sprawls, The Autumn Defense drills down to a sweetly straightforward style of classic pop and rock.

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First Listen
11:02 pm
Sun January 19, 2014

First Listen: Dum Dum Girls, 'Too True'

Dum Dum Girls' new album, Too True, comes out Jan. 28.
James Orlando Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 10:03 pm

Dee Dee Penny and her band Dum Dum Girls made their name on primitivism, only to demolish the expectations they'd created for themselves. Even the name Dum Dum Girls suggests adherence to the garage-bound basics, and the group's early recordings follow suit. But the new Too True is different: A streamlined record, it borrows the cool, plainspoken efficiency of its predecessors while slickening and smartening the songs themselves.

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All Songs Considered
2:13 pm
Thu January 16, 2014

The Good Listener: How Do You Know If You'll Love A Song Forever?

Oh, Carly Rae Jepsen. We knew it couldn't last.
Courtesy of the artist

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First Listen
11:01 pm
Sun January 12, 2014

First Listen: Warpaint, 'Warpaint'

Warpaint's self-titled album comes out Jan. 21.
Mia Kirby Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed January 22, 2014 11:58 am

A few years back, the band Low sold T-shirts emblazoned with a fine unofficial motto for its music: "I don't like cool, I like beautiful." For the four women who make up Warpaint, those two qualities aren't mutually exclusive: The L.A. group's swirling sound is full of mysterious buzzes and coos, and there's a sense of everything-in-its-right-place grace and impeccability to it, yet the songs themselves never feel icy or distant.

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First Listen
11:00 pm
Sun January 12, 2014

First Listen: Against Me!, 'Transgender Dysphoria Blues'

Against Me!'s Transgender Dysphoria Blues comes out Jan. 21.
Ryan Russell Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed January 22, 2014 12:01 pm

The bracingly political Florida punk band Against Me! has been a going concern since 1997, but Transgender Dysphoria Blues can't help but feel like a debut: It's the group's first album since singer Tom Gabel came out as a woman. Now named Laura Jane Grace, she still barks her lyrics with fiercely assertive intelligence — with a voice as yet largely unchanged from the one in the band's earlier work — but Against Me!'s subject matter can't help but be turned on its head.

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All Songs Considered
2:45 pm
Thu January 9, 2014

The Good Listener: When Good Musicians Do Bad Things

Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, seen here in 1968, had a relationship that offended many fans' sensibilities. But their complicated romantic history hasn't affected either's musical legacy.
Getty Images

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid a deluxe version of the Ashley Monroe record in which "deluxe" means "packed in a 10-pound wooden crate" is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how and whether to enjoy music by folks whose real-life actions offend us.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun January 5, 2014

First Listen: Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings, 'Give The People What They Want'

Give the People What They Want, Sharon Jones' new album with The Dap-Kings, comes out Jan. 14.
Paul McGeiver Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed January 15, 2014 10:33 am

For veteran soul singer Sharon Jones, 2013 was a year of frustration, fear and false starts: She'd just announced the summer release of her fifth album, Give the People What They Want, when she was diagnosed with cancer and had to put her career on hold. Tours were canceled, while the finished record had to be shelved until she'd recovered to where she was in a position to promote it. Anyone who's seen Jones live knows how much she pours into performing, so fans appeared to be in for a long wait.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun January 5, 2014

First Listen: Damien Jurado, 'Brothers And Sisters Of The Eternal Son'

Damien Jurado's new album, Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son, comes out Jan. 21.
Steve Gullick Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri January 10, 2014 2:43 pm

It's a testament to singer-songwriter Damien Jurado's versatility that he's made nearly a dozen albums of largely inward-looking folk and rock music, and yet has never made two records that sound the same.

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First Listen
10:51 pm
Sun December 29, 2013

First Listen: Peter Gabriel, 'Scratch My Back ... And I'll Scratch Yours'

Peter Gabriel's new album, And I'll Scratch Yours, comes out Jan. 7.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sun January 12, 2014 11:27 pm

These days, album-length covers collections tend to be minor footnotes in a musician's catalog, ranked somewhere just above live albums, holiday recordings and those greatest-hits packages that tack on one or two new songs. After all, covers albums at least seem as if they should be easy to assemble, in large part because they remove the artistic and logistical hurdle of writing songs. And, for their part, listeners tend to process them by way of comparison rather than raw appreciation.

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Monkey See
1:59 pm
Fri December 27, 2013

Pop Culture Happy Hour: Time Machines, Time Capsules And A Live Studio Audience

NPR

Originally published on Fri December 27, 2013 5:31 pm

This isn't our first live episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour: Almost exactly a year earlier, we recorded a show in an abandoned bank during an NPR merchandise sale. But this one, recorded Dec. 10 at NPR's Studio One, is the first live show we've recorded on an official studio soundstage, complete with a seated crowd, food and drink for sale, and tickets that had to be purchased in advance.

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Best Music Of 2013
10:20 am
Fri December 27, 2013

2013: The Year In Tiny Desk Concerts

Hayley Bartels NPR

For weeks now, we've been compiling lists of 2013's best music — favorite albums, favorite songs, individual staff members' personal Top 10 lists and so on.

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Mon December 16, 2013

Stephen Thompson's Top 10 Albums Of 2013

Kacey Musgraves.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon December 16, 2013 3:44 pm

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Music
4:29 pm
Tue December 10, 2013

Indie-Pop Albums That Make The Cut Are More Than Mere Collections

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 12:30 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At NPR Music, they're wrapping up the year the best way they know how, with their hotly contested list of their 50 favorite albums of 2013. Now, all this week, we'll get a peak of that list from our in-house experts, including NPR Music writer and editor Stephen Thompson, whose beat is the ever amorphous indie pop, which - Stephen, what exactly is that these days?

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: I have absolutely no idea. It used to mean accessible but unpopular.

CORNISH: OK. So...

(LAUGHTER)

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Tiny Desk Concerts
1:19 pm
Mon December 9, 2013

Dessa: Tiny Desk Concert

Dessa performs at a Tiny Desk Concert on Sept. 24, 2013.
Abbey Oldham Abbey Oldham/NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 1:20 pm

Part of the Twin Cities hip-hop collective Doomtree, rapper, singer, poet and songwriter Dessa divides her time between singing and rapping, often landing on a spoken-word splitting of the difference.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
2:06 pm
Mon December 2, 2013

The Dismemberment Plan: Tiny Desk Concert

The Dismemberment Plan performs a Tiny Desk concert in October 2013.
Meredith Rizzo Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 2:26 pm

When NPR Music started inviting musicians to perform at Bob Boilen's desk back in 2008, we never could have expected that we'd one day host The Dismemberment Plan. For one, the D.C.-area group had long since disbanded; for another, its fleshed-out and periodically funky sound wouldn't seem to lend itself to vastly stripped-down arrangements.

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All Songs Considered
10:50 am
Fri November 15, 2013

The Good Listener: Is There Too Much Music?

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the whale-sedatives we ordered to help us endure the Green Bay Packers' losing streak is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how to handle the desire to take a break from music.

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All Songs Considered
2:02 pm
Fri November 8, 2013

The Good Listener: The Right And Wrong Way To Go Solo

George Michael (left) and Andrew Ridgeley both went solo after Wham! broke up. One fared just a little better than the other.
Brian Aris

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Tiny Desk Concerts
2:03 am
Sun November 3, 2013

Ashley Monroe: Tiny Desk Concert

Ashley Monroe performs at a Tiny Desk Concert in September 2013.
Chloe Coleman Chloe Coleman/NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 3:54 pm

In the last few years, Ashley Monroe has cobbled together an impressive country-music pedigree by working alongside both upstarts (Pistol Annies with Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley) and longtime Nashville veterans (Vince Gill produced Monroe's solo album Like a Rose), and even collaborating with Jack White every now

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Tiny Desk Concerts
2:03 pm
Mon October 21, 2013

Daughter: Tiny Desk Concert

Daughter performs a Tiny Desk Concert in August 2013.
Chloe Coleman NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 6:04 pm

Daughter first popped up on our radar when we heard the London band's song "Landfill" while preparing for SXSW early last year: Achingly pretty and melancholy, the track builds to an absolute gut-punch of a line — "I want you so much, but I hate your guts" — that conjures a pitch-perfect mix of gloom, desire and hostility.

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All Songs Considered
1:51 pm
Thu October 17, 2013

The Good Listener: How Do I Name My Band, Anyway?

Hoobastank has sold more than 10 million albums. Does it really matter what you call your band?
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the new Pokemon 3DS games that have zombified our once-expressive children is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, tips on how to name one's band.

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