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.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the hundreds of water bottles we were supposed to give away at SXSW is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on when a person can rightly be considered too old to attend music festivals.

The Wytches' furious, hair-flinging psych-rock isn't the stuff of back-porch acoustic sessions: Both live and on the English band's singles, the energy is so intense, it can barely be contained. But when NPR Music arranged a Wytches session during SXSW — held in the charming backyard setting of Friends & Neighbors in east Austin — singer-guitarist Kristian Bell stood in for the whole band, with just his voice and an acoustic guitar.

The word "maturation" and the word "punk" don't often coexist easily: For a band like Cleveland's Cloud Nothings, whose sloppily aggressive songs channel slackerdom and frustration, growing up would seem antithetical to its mission. But the group's third album, Here and Nowhere Else, threads the needle just right, tightening and brightening Cloud Nothings' sound in ways that never numb its blistering, careening forcefulness.

Timber Timbre's members tiptoe across some strange boundaries: Atop atmospheric sound beds that often conjure spaghetti Westerns, Taylor Kirk's dusky croon can seem seductive, inviting and, when he prefers, deeply creepy. It's a voice that can embody Halloween itself — Timber Timbre is self-aware enough to have titled its last album Creep On Creepin' On — and yet Kirk possesses the versatility to sing sweet ballads with Feist on the side.

Before her band had played a single note, frontwoman Meredith Graves surveyed a thousands-strong crowd packing Stubb's BBQ at NPR Music's 2014 SXSW showcase.

"We're Perfect Pussy," she said. "We're terrified."

The Leeds-based post-punk band Eagulls hit the stage at Stubb's BBQ in Austin, Texas, ready to deploy some serrated weaponry. From neatly attired singer George Mitchell's assured yelp to a guitar attack that's clean and direct, the group generated a stormy sound that roared and banged with sleekness and power, while hinting at the doomstruck beauty of forebears like Joy Division.

Every year, more than 2,000 acts swarm to SXSW — and every year, NPR Music painstakingly handpicks 100 of the music festival's best discoveries for a downloadable six-hour sampler. We call it The Austin 100, and it's virtually guaranteed to contain something you'll love that you didn't know existed.

For the next 30 days, you can download The Austin 100 from this page — either song by song, or with one click, in its 839 MB entirety — as well as stream it as a continuous mix, both here and through NPR Music's various mobile apps.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the Beck single that keeps tricking us into thinking it's the new Beck album are a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on when superfans sever their allegiances.

How intrepid is Pop Culture Happy Hour's intrepid Linda Holmes? So intrepid that, when she goes on vacation in February, she heads to even-colder climes, braving the snow-swept Alcatraz that is northern Minnesota. This, of course, left the rest of us to pick up the pieces — which we did, thanks to the arrival of our dear Code Switch pal Kat Chow.

On paper, the German electro-pop band The Notwist sounds less accessible than it is: Since getting together 25 years ago, its members have delved into everything from hardcore to underground hip-hop to proggy jazz, with many varyingly arty detours in between. But the latter half of its history, particularly once you hit the sublime early-'00s breakthrough Neon Golden, is wonderfully warm and approachable.

Joel Thibodeau's music doesn't emanate from a single place: The singer who records under the name Death Vessel was born in Germany and raised in New England, and he recorded his new album Island Intervals in Reykjavik with the aid of producer Alex Somers and Sigur Rós singer Jónsi. That list of places provides context beyond mere biographical background, because Thibodeau's music reflects virtually every direction in which he's been pulled.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the Fun-Dip valentine cards we ordered strictly for the Fun-Dip is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, just in time for Valentine's Day, thoughts on platonic mixtapes.

Stephanie Marten-Ellis writes via Facebook: "How do you share good music with someone without giving the impression that you're 'trying to say something'? You just like the song and want someone to know about it! Can you separate your music suggestions from how you perceive/think of your share-ee?"

Phantogram plays spiky, dense and danceable pop-rock songs with an electronic pulse: Most of its songs have an insistent grind to them, with a percussive through-line snapping and jabbing and infusing virtually every moment with jumpy urgency. But singer/keyboardist Sarah Barthel and guitarist Josh Carter still let these songs breathe in surprising ways, so that the moments of quiet that slip through — like the spare and surprising piano which pops up at the end of "Black Out Days" — have that much more impact.

The members of Real Estate are awfully young to pine for their lost youth, but nostalgia remains crucial to the New Jersey band's tender, impeccable sound. Real Estate's shimmering pop-rock seems to echo out of the past — from beaches and garages and tape decks — with the kind of melancholy beauty few bands outside The Beach Boys could hope to match.

In pop-music circles, Suzanne Vega is known almost entirely for two songs from the late 1980s: the child-abuse ballad "Luka" and a song that launched literally dozens of dance remixes, "Tom's Diner." But Vega has been making vital, inventive music the entire time — much of it folk-based, though her sound has taken many smart detours along the way — and is about to put out her first album of original material in seven years, Tales From the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the Bachelor Bouquets we ordered ourselves in order to appear loved is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on music to play at a dance for nervous, flirtatious teenagers.

Every year around this time, the All Songs Considered team begins the process of listening to nearly 2,000 MP3s by bands playing the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. We acquire them from any number of sources, as bands willing to circulate their songs for consideration make them available online. But every year, we wind up missing something. In pursuit of music by thousands of bands, hundreds slip past our radar altogether.

For many bands who return after long hiatuses, the absences melt away quickly. My Bloody Valentine, gone 22 years, put out an album last year that jumped directly from the sound of 1991's Loveless.

Compiled by Starbucks every few years, the Sweetheart compilations adhere to a simple concept in which well-liked contemporary artists cover well-liked classic love songs just in time for Valentine's Day. But, more importantly, the collections revolve around a refreshing and consistent mindset: There are no arch piss-takes, no goofs, no skirting sincerity with a wink and a sneer. Even when an effort feels like a minor pairing or a failed experiment, goodwill carries the day.

Minneapolis singer-songwriter Jeremy Messersmith sings sweet, timeless songs about love, desire, death and grief — not, it would seem, the stuff of grandiose artistic ambition. And yet Messersmith stands out by trying harder, doing more and always reaching farther than it seems.