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.

A couple weeks ago, Code Switch blogger Gene Demby and I sat down to reflect on a decade-old sports moment — a single play in a single game — and describe how it affected us as rival fans of the teams involved. In this second episode of the series we're calling The Giant Foam Finger, the two of us tackle a far unwieldier subject: hatred.

We talk a lot about nostalgia on Pop Culture Happy Hour — about the ways entertainment has shaped our youth and placed our memories in perspective — but in doing so, we've mostly discussed movies, TV shows, music, books, board games, that sort of thing.

Damien Rice's creative ambition has always outstripped his personal ambition: The Irish singer-songwriter's 2002 debut O yielded many lavish orchestral flourishes, and even a foray into opera near the end, but Rice himself always seemed a reluctant star. After 2006's 9, he quietly retreated from the public eye and relocated to Iceland, barely popping up publicly since, so the arrival of these eight new songs comes as a welcome and periodically thrilling surprise.

It's rare that a record lays out a mission statement as efficiently as the new supergroup Thompson does in the first 60 seconds of "Family." Here's Teddy Thompson, singing about the perils of being surrounded by his particular relatives:

My father is one of the greats to ever step on a stage

My mother has the most beautiful voice in the world

And I am betwixt and between

Sean Lennon, you know what I mean

The word "charisma" is often used to imply a certain kind of attention-grabbing showiness, or even neediness. But it can also suggest subtle ease; a simple gravitational pull that draws people in by making them feel comfortable and at home.

The 2009 album Hospice sparked a major breakthrough for The Antlers, but it's not the sort of success a band would want to duplicate, even if it could. As the title suggests, Hospice was built around a dark unifying theme — an examination of the events surrounding the slow death of singer Peter Silberman's friend — so the record comes by its desolate, life-and-death intensity honestly.

Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg first made their names with feather-light chamber-folk confections that echoed the soaring sweetness of Fleet Foxes. A cover of that band's "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" even helped launch the then-teenagers to YouTube fame back in 2008. But in 2014, styles have changed and so have the Söderbergs: First Aid Kit's major-label debut, Stay Gold, moves well beyond the portentous prettiness of the pair's 2012 breakthrough, The Lion's Roar.

Many young singers are stalked by an ill-fitting, virtually unshakable descriptor, whether it's a limiting and vaguely dismissive adjective ("quirky," for example) or a limiting and vaguely dismissive noun ("songstress," to pick one that should be banished from the language and buried under 10,000 pounds of rock salt). For Nikki Lane, that descriptor seems to be "outlaw country" — a generally defensible expression, but one that can subtly imply an element of posturing, even posing.

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.

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.

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.

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.



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.



Lou Barlow has been reuniting with old bandmates left and right in the last decade or so, even as his personal life has broken apart. In 2005, the rock veteran rejoined Dinosaur Jr., having long since moved past the acrimony surrounding his departure, and he's now back with Sebadoh for the first time since the turn of the century.

It's human nature to romanticize a specific time and place in the past — a moment when everything felt just right, or opportunities were laid out like a banquet. For Okkervil River's Will Sheff, it's been impossible to let go of Meriden, N.H., circa 1986: That tiny town is where he spent his childhood (he turned 10 that summer) and where his parents taught at an area boarding school.

The Newport Folk Festival's history is dotted with historic moments involving musical icons — Bob Dylan plugging in jumps immediately to mind. But, while organizers still take care to stack each festival with huge names and star veterans, the margins are smartly and lovingly curated, too. The 2013 Newport Folk Festival is no different, with an impressive slate of boundary-pushers and genre-eschewers. Here are five of the newest and most promising faces, with a downloadable song from each.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the flyers from reputable debt-consolidation companies is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a vexing piece of concert-going etiquette.

Audio for this feature is no longer available.