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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All Songs Considered
12:28 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

We Get Mail: Can You Build The Perfect Cover Song?

It is some sort of crime against humanity that The New Pornographers' members have never gathered to record a cover of Enrique Iglesias' "Escape."
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 2:02 pm

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All Songs Considered
12:30 pm
Thu May 9, 2013

We Get Mail: How Can A Vinyl Lover Start Over From Scratch?

For fans of vinyl records who regret discarding their collections, it's not too hard to start over.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 2:03 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the ironic promotional cassingles is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how a regretful fan of vinyl records can re-create her discarded collection.

Kirsten Elbourne Mathieson writes: "I'm big-time regretting getting rid of all of my record albums years ago. Any advice for someone starting from scratch with vinyl after all these years? What albums must be heard on vinyl rather than CD/digital?"

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Field Recordings
10:37 am
Thu May 9, 2013

Cayucas: Sunlight In Song Form

NPR

Originally published on Wed July 2, 2014 3:42 pm

If you've ever been poolside on a hot day, you know what it's like to have your senses bombarded with leisure; to feel the sun radiating and shimmering off everything around you. Watch the first few moments of this Field Recording, with its bobbing inner tubes and lounging vacationers, and you can practically smell the spots where chlorine meets concrete. We filmed the band late one morning at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs — a setting that also produced an eager dancer, assorted rubberneckers and one particularly agreeable dog.

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All Songs Considered
2:09 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

We Get Mail: What To Do When You've Burned Out On Your Favorite Music

Listen enough, and you can even grow tired of Jeff Buckley's music. Once burnout sets in, how do you rekindle a musical love?
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 2:04 pm

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All Songs Considered
12:17 pm
Thu April 25, 2013

We Get Mail: Should Parents Try To Get Their Kids Into Great Music?

How much should parents feel responsible for making sure their kids hear Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band?
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 2:05 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the solicitations disguised as tax refunds is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, what role parents can and should play in teaching their kids about classic albums.

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Music
9:52 pm
Wed April 24, 2013

Jittery Jams: 10 Songs For Coffee Lovers

Frank Sinatra's "The Coffee Song" makes light of a perceived Brazilian coffee glut.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

Originally published on Fri April 26, 2013 2:46 am

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All Songs Considered
12:10 pm
Thu April 18, 2013

We Get Mail: Do CD Hoarders Need An Intervention?

So you've got a ton of CDs. What's the problem?
Lars Gotrich NPR

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 2:05 pm

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All Songs Considered
10:48 am
Thu April 11, 2013

We Get Mail: When Someone You Love Likes Music You Hate, What Do You Do?

If someone you love likes Jack Johnson, but you don't, how do you find common ground?
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 2:11 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the fruit baskets welcoming us to our new office is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how to reconcile a person you like with musical tastes you don't.

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All Songs Considered
8:30 am
Mon April 8, 2013

Harvey Danger's Sean Nelson Returns With A Plea To 'Make Good Choices'

Sean Nelson will release his first solo album, Make Good Choices, on June 4.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 4, 2013 3:05 pm

There'd be nothing wrong with "one-hit wonder" status if the term didn't suggest some sort of creative limitation; if people didn't assume that one hit means only one good song. But for Sean Nelson and Harvey Danger, the 1998 smash "Flagpole Sitta" has had a way of overshadowing the superior but less widely heard material that followed. By the time Harvey Danger self-released the tremendous 2005 album Little By Little..., the group's incisive, catchy, thoughtful post-hit songs were known mostly to obsessives and cultists.

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All Songs Considered
12:04 pm
Thu April 4, 2013

We Get Mail: Digging For Gems In Genres You Think You Hate

The Pistol Annies' Ashley Monroe recently released a solo album, Like a Rose, which helps stretch the boundaries of mainstream country music.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 2:12 pm

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Thu March 28, 2013

We Get Mail: The Power Of Pulling The Plug

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 2:13 pm

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The Record
4:02 pm
Mon March 18, 2013

Jason Molina, A Folksinger Who Embodied The Best Of The Blues, Has Died

Steve Gullick Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon March 18, 2013 5:04 pm

Blues music is supposed to be cathartic — a way to process and package pain in ways that make it palatable; to take our hurt and ache, set it outside ourselves, give it a tune and rhythm that makes it tangible and real yet somehow less terrifying.

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SXSW: Live From Austin
2:43 pm
Fri March 15, 2013

Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Live In Concert: SXSW 2013

The New York trio performed their new single "Sacrilege" for the first time in front of an audience.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Thu June 19, 2014 3:01 pm

Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O pulls off one of the trickiest maneuvers in rock 'n' roll: the ability to appear utterly bonkers on stage while remaining in control of every chaotic outburst. The woman knows how to make an entrance, too: She emerged on stage at Stubb's in Austin — for the band's sole appearance at SXSW 2013 — clad in canary yellow, sporting a sparkly fez, giant eyeglasses, and a glittering scarf.

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SXSW: Live From Austin
2:42 pm
Fri March 15, 2013

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Live In Concert: SXSW 2013

Nick Cave performs at Stubb's Bar-B-Q as part of NPR Music's 2013 SXSW Showcase.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 11:41 am

It began, appropriately enough, with a plea for darkness. Nick Cave may have opened his SXSW set in the twilight hours, but if anyone could will the night into being, it's the black-clad Australian star.

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SXSW: Live From Austin
6:13 am
Thu March 14, 2013

Alt-J, Live In Concert: SXSW 2013

Alt-J lead vocalist Joe Newman gives his unique voice a break during the band's show at NPR Music's SXSW showcase at Stubb's in Austin.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Tue July 1, 2014 4:15 pm

Alt-J's Joe Newman has a funny way of singing — especially for the uninitiated, it can seem cartoonish or, worse, affected. He bends his high, twisty voice in strange ways, wrapping it around inventive arrangements that burble and boom and otherwise ramp up a sense of unease. The easiest way to embrace Alt-J's idiosyncratic charm is to witness the band live; to hear how often Newman sings quietly and subtly, and to get a fuller feel for the prettiness at the core of Alt-J's songs.

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SXSW: Live From Austin
5:54 am
Thu March 14, 2013

Le1f, Live In Concert: SXSW 2013

Le1f performs at NPR Music's 2013 SXSW Showcase at Stubb's.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Tue July 8, 2014 10:46 am

  • Le1f, Recorded Live At Stubb's

Backed by only a DJ, New York rapper Le1f and his three-foot blond braids proved an apt counterpart to Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O, who'd finished performing on the nearby Stubb's main stage just minutes earlier. He performed with confidence, command and occasionally avant-garde fearlessness, but also kept an eye trained on a desire to entertain, above all else.

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SXSW: Live From Austin
5:21 am
Thu March 14, 2013

Youth Lagoon, Live In Concert: SXSW 2013

Trevor Powers of Youth Lagoon performs at NPR Music's 2013 SXSW Showcase at Stubb's.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Wed July 2, 2014 2:18 pm

  • Youth Lagoon, Recorded Live At Stubb's

A studio wizard still in his early 20s, Youth Lagoon's Trevor Powers makes music that documents the spiraling uncertainty of a worried mind. It must have been tough to translate to the live stage, where the comfort and cover of the studio are stripped away and every fussy swirl has to be thoughtfully re-created or excised entirely.

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SXSW: Live From Austin
5:19 am
Thu March 14, 2013

Waxahatchee, Live In Concert: SXSW 2013

Katie Crutchfield of Waxahatchee performs at NPR Music's 2013 SXSW Showcase at Stubb's.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Wed July 2, 2014 3:15 pm

If Katie Crutchfield ever becomes a solo star, it's hard to imagine how the Waxahatchee singer's most bruised and beautiful songs will translate to a gigantic stage. Tucked into a back room at Stubb's during SXSW on March 13 — and following in the immediate aftermath of Nick Cave's swaggering turn under the stars — Crutchfield opened her 25-minute set with a string of fragile solo songs, each more delicate than the last. This was interior music, made of guts and nerves and other viscera we don't share easily.

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All Songs Considered
4:50 pm
Wed March 13, 2013

Baby Bands, Pop Stars And Room-Filling Joy: What To Expect At SXSW 2013

Twin Horns Of Joy? Members of the band The Bottom Dollars play on the street in Austin, Texas, during the opening night of the South by Southwest music festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Sat March 16, 2013 9:55 am

Listen to Stephen Thompson's conversation with Audie Cornish on All Things Considered by clicking the audio link.


The South by Southwest music festival kicked off Tuesday with the first of five straight nights of music overload: The clubs, makeshift music venues and front porches of Austin, Texas, were overrun with little-known discoveries-in-waiting and big names alike, as well as tens of thousands of fans who have flocked to the city in search of epiphanies.

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All Songs Considered
3:31 pm
Wed March 6, 2013

We Get Mail: Picking The Perfect Travel Playlist

This little scamp gets ready for Norway's Trondheim Metal Fest by psyching himself up with the music of Napalm Death.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue May 28, 2013 2:14 pm

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