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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First Listen
7:03 am
Fri May 23, 2014

First Listen: Hamilton Leithauser, 'Black Hours'

Hamilton Leithauser's new album, Black Hours, comes out June 3.
Lauren Dukoff Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed June 4, 2014 10:56 am

Hamilton Leithauser sounds worn-out and weary on Black Hours, his first solo record since his long-running band The Walkmen went on indefinite hiatus late last year.

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All Songs Considered
10:03 am
Fri May 16, 2014

The Good Listener: When Should I Keep Criticism To Myself?

Morrissey's new album doesn't come out until July, and one of his diehard fans is already worried about starting the backlash.
Kevin Winter Getty Images

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the bag of caramel-filled chocolates we're neglecting to share with our colleagues is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on when hardcore fans hate their favorite artist's new project.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun May 11, 2014

First Listen: Jolie Holland, 'Wine Dark Sea'

Jolie Holland's new album, Wine Dark Sea, comes out May 20.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 20, 2014 11:55 am

When she sings, Jolie Holland's words come out warped and slurred, the notes bent sideways and raw at the edges. When she first emerged as a solo artist a decade ago, Holland set that eccentric delivery against dustily barren old-time arrangements that often made her sound as if she were echoing out of a transistor radio many decades ago. But these days, on the new Wine Dark Sea, she sets it against low, sullenly rumbling arrangements that sprawl and wander ambitiously across the sounds of blues, rock, jazz and soul.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun May 11, 2014

First Listen: Haley Bonar, 'Last War'

Haley Bonar's new album, Last War, comes out May 20.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 20, 2014 11:56 am

Haley Bonar first reached a national audience as a teenager, when fellow Minnesotan Alan Sparhawk heard her perform and offered her a spot on tour, opening for his band Low. At the time, the pairing made sense: Her recordings were sweet and lovely, but also frequently dour. Over time, though, Bonar — in case you were wondering, it's pronounced "Bonner" — has brightened and polished her sound to a glistening shine.

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All Songs Considered
8:19 am
Fri May 9, 2014

The Good Listener: Can I Ruin My Wedding By Playing The Wrong Song?

Sing it with us: "I hope I cut myself shaving tomorrow. I hope it bleeds all day long..."
Sergey Galushko iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the flyer for a maid service that disappeared into a massive pile of papers is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on when to deviate from traditional wedding-reception music.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun May 4, 2014

First Listen: Mirah, 'Changing Light'

Mirah's new album, Changing Light, comes out May 13.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed May 14, 2014 2:31 pm

Mirah wrote Changing Light, her fifth full-length solo album, in the years-long aftermath of a punishing breakup. Maybe it's the amount of time it took for the material to gestate, or maybe it's the thoughtfulness and patience gleaned from a nearly 20-year career, but Changing Light keeps looking at her ache from wise angles. Nervy and sonically inventive in spots, tender and graceful in others, it's a breakup record that eschews childish outbursts and pointless wallowing.

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First Listen
10:03 pm
Sun May 4, 2014

First Listen: Sylvan Esso, 'Sylvan Esso'

Sylvan Esso's self-titled debut album comes out May 13.
DL Anderson Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed May 14, 2014 2:32 pm

The product of an unlikely pairing of musicians, Sylvan Esso works in equally unlikely ways: Singer Amelia Meath first surfaced as a singer in the largely a cappella Vermont folk group Mountain Man, while Nick Sanborn plays bass in the versatile North Carolina psych-rock band Megafaun.

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All Songs Considered
9:48 am
Fri May 2, 2014

The Good Listener: Is It Fair To Call A Band A Sellout?

"Did you know that [The Promise Ring] made fifty thousand dollars last year?"
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the Pokemon games we purchased for our kids even though they're entirely indistinguishable from the other Pokemon games we've purchased for our kids is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on what it means (and whether it's even possible) to sell out as a musician.

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All Songs Considered
2:28 pm
Mon April 28, 2014

Song Premiere: Banks, 'Goddess'

Banks' upcoming album is titled Goddess.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 29, 2014 1:06 pm

At SXSW this year, I found myself wondering whether Banks was even a real person: Every time I tried to catch one of her shows, the venue was filled to capacity, with no hope of ingress. My curiosity had been piqued by a string of intriguing singles and remixes, each of which showcased a nifty juxtaposition of coolly expressive vocals and forbidding but beautiful electronics. But I left empty-handed, forced to file her name away for later exploration.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
1:18 pm
Mon April 28, 2014

Johnnyswim: Tiny Desk Concert

Johnnyswim performs at a Tiny Desk Concert in April 2014.
Jim Tuttle NPR

Originally published on Wed June 18, 2014 10:00 am

Once you're able to see this three-song set by the band Johnnyswim, NPR Music will have published exactly 350 Tiny Desk Concerts — so we've developed a pretty good sense of when a set will stick in our memories for a while. We intuited, for example, that Adele was about to become a dominant force shortly after she breezed into our offices.

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