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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, his girlfriend, their 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.

Most music-industry awards shows hand out armloads of trophies, but the Americana Music Association only gives out six. Besides a handful of lifetime achievement awards — which, for this year, have yet to be announced — the only categories are for best album, artist, duo/group, emerging artist, song and instrumentalist.

Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison, whose bleak but often triumphantly arranged rock songs tackled depression, anxiety and self-doubt, was found dead at Port Edgar near South Queensberry, Scotland, around 8:30 p.m. local time on Thursday, Edinburgh Police confirmed in a statement provided to NPR. He was 36.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


Every band needs to refresh and reconsider its sound sooner or later, no matter how sharp it's gotten over the course of a long career. Creative stagnation comes for us all — even The Decemberists, a band whose records have always come bursting with verve and verbosity.

The Austin 100

Mar 1, 2018

In the middle of every March, the SXSW Music Festival fills Austin, Texas, with thousands of musicians from around the world. It's a marathon so daunting — it's a marathon and a sprint, really — that even longtime SXSW veterans need a hand winnowing the festival's countless discoveries down to digestible doses.

That's where The Austin 100 comes in. Handpicked from thousands of bands playing at this year's festival, these 100 songs highlight the best SXSW 2018 has to offer — songs from around the world, across a broad spectrum of genres, sounds and styles.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Tom Petty wrote a lot of hits during his more than 40 years making music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN GIRL")

TOM PETTY: (Singing) Well, she was an American girl.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REFUGEE")

We've been recording Tiny Desk concerts for nearly a decade, and in that time, a few artists have come back for encores — folks like Wilco, Chris Thile and the inspiration for the series, Laura Gibson. One band, The Oh Hellos, came back after a year to favor us with a holiday set. But we've never, until now, asked anyone to return later the same day.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

And now a goodbye to the Warped Tour.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE ROCK SHOW")

BLINK-182: (Singing) I couldn't wait for the summer and the Warped Tour. I remember it's the first time that I saw her there.

November means different weather to different places, so it's presumptuous to assume that everyone is looking forward to an evening spent bundled up in front of the fireplace with a pile of fleece blankets and a cup of hot cocoa. But if you want to simulate the spirit of a cozy November night, you could do far worse than "Winter," the tenderly rendered new single from Irish singer-songwriter Rosie Carney.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE SONG, "KISS")

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In honor of MTV's 35th birthday Monday, the network has launched MTV Classic, a new channel featuring programming from the '90s and '00s. On the same day, we also wish a happy birthday to NPR Music and Pop Culture Happy Hour's Stephen Thompson, who celebrates with an interview on All Things Considered about how MTV Classic is redefining which popular culture fits into the current environment for nostalgia.

Sometime tomorrow, Linda Holmes and I will break down Monday night's Grammys telecast in a Small Batch edition of Pop Culture Happy Hour. And, for a variety of reasons, we're not likely to spend much time on the awards themselves.

Pop Culture Happy Hour entered this week juggling a couple of problems. For one, a gigantic blizzard had just dumped roughly two feet of snow on the D.C. area, making transportation virtually impossible and, it turns out, stranding Glen Weldon in a Virginia cabin for much of the week. Getting the gang together would be no easy task.

A few months ago, Code Switch lead blogger Gene Demby turned to Twitter in an attempt to crowd-source a solution to a problem he'd been having. Gene had begun watching Premier League soccer but couldn't settle on a rooting interest, so he asked the league's fans to convince him to root for one team or another.

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.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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.

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