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.

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All Songs Considered
6:54 am
Sun August 31, 2014

The Good Listener: Parents Just Don't Understand?

DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince said it themselves: There's no need to argue.
Jive Records YouTube

Originally published on Sun August 31, 2014 7:46 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the gigantic bottle of Marmite we probably shouldn't have ordered on a late-night whim is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on getting your parents into your favorite music.

Erik writes via Facebook: "How do you get your parents to respect the music of today?"

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First Listen
12:06 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

First Listen: Interpol, 'El Pintor'

Interpol's new album, El Pintor, comes out on Sept. 9.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 10:14 am

Interpol once seemed like a candidate for a quick post-debut flameout. Its 2002 debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, broke through with seemingly instantaneous intensity, setting the band up for an equally ferocious second-album letdown. So many bands in its fickle New York scene were playing a variation on Interpol's sleek, stylish, darkly driving post-punk that success was bound to be difficult to sustain.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun August 24, 2014

First Listen: Blonde Redhead, 'Barragán'

Blonde Redhead's new album, Barragán, comes out Sept. 2.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 10:12 am

You can't really apply just one catch-all adjective to the New York band Blonde Redhead, which just entered its third decade and will soon release its ninth album, Barragán. When it began, the group fit somewhere in the literal and figurative neighborhood of Sonic Youth, as its free-jazz-inflected noise-rock kept one foot neatly planted in art school.

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All Songs Considered
5:29 am
Sat August 23, 2014

The Good Listener: Can I Ask Loud Talkers At Outdoor Concerts To (Please) Shut Up?

You're looking at Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes. But about 50 feet in front of him is a dude who will not shut up.
Adam Kissick for NPR

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the letters informing us that we've won amazing prizes in contests we didn't enter is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on etiquette at outdoor concerts.

Karyl writes via email: "Is it OK to ask incessant loud talkers to stop talking or to talk softly at an outside concert?"

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun August 17, 2014

First Listen: J Mascis, 'Tied To A Star'

J Mascis' new album, Tied to a Star, comes out Aug. 26.
Justin Lapriore Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed August 27, 2014 3:02 pm

As singer and guitarist for Dinosaur Jr., J Mascis presides over a sound that can be skull-splittingly loud and intense, especially onstage. It feels strange to describe Tied to a Star as a "quiet" record, even by simple comparison, but for the most part Mascis' new solo album feels downright delicate. Though not entirely unplugged, Tied to a Star showcases the soft intricacy of a veteran craftsman who knows when to hang back and decide to pulverize another day.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Mon August 11, 2014

Song Premiere: Stars, 'From The Night'

Stars' new album, No One Is Lost, comes out Oct. 14.
Shervin Lainez Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed October 29, 2014 12:15 pm

Stars' music has assumed many forms, from shimmery power-pop to full-throttle dance-floor fillers to doomy ballads about death and romantic dissolution. Throughout the Montreal band's seven-album history, the recurring thread has mostly been songs that reflect some sort of conflict, whether singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell are viewing breakups from every angle or musing on death itself.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun August 10, 2014

First Listen: Bishop Allen, 'Lights Out'

Bishop Allen's new album, Lights Out, comes out Aug. 19.
Matt Petricone Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed August 20, 2014 12:14 pm

There was a time, nearly a decade ago, when the New York power-pop band Bishop Allen couldn't stop saturating the market with songs. More specifically, the group released an EP in each and every month of 2006, then bundled together the highlights for a full-length album, The Broken String, the following year. When Grrr... came out in 2009, prolificacy still seemed hardwired into the Bishop Allen mainframe.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Sat August 9, 2014

The Good Listener: How Much Is Too Much To Pay For A Concert T-Shirt?

"Ooh, Love Horse, definitely one of those. Wait, forty dollars?!"
iStockphoto

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the promotional Pop Rocks we're consuming as noisily as possible is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on what we should feel comfortable spending on T-shirts at live shows.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun August 3, 2014

First Listen: Sarah Jaffe, 'Don't Disconnect'

Sarah Jaffe's new album, Don't Disconnect, comes out Aug. 19.
Dutch Rall Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed August 13, 2014 6:25 am

When Texas singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe released The Body Wins in 2012, it functioned as both a high-profile introduction and a radical left turn. Jaffe had spent a few years as an under-the-radar up-and-comer, but her best-known songs ("Clementine," "Even Born Again") tended toward brooding folk-pop balladry.

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Newport Folk Festival
11:25 am
Sun August 3, 2014

Mavis Staples, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2014

Mavis Staples performs at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Tue August 5, 2014 11:09 am

Newport Folk Festival programmers like to close their lineups on a note of uplift; to send fans to the exits feeling elated and moved. On that front, they couldn't have done much better than the great Mavis Staples, whose titanic career has spanned more than 60 years. From her time in the best-selling gospel family band The Staple Singers through her role in the civil rights movement, she's been a face of change and a voice behind some of the most powerful songs in modern history.

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