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
8:03 am
Sat May 16, 2015

The Good Listener: Can I Deflate The Beach Balls At Concerts?

One letter-writer's nightmare scenario.
Shaun Lowe iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the package shipped Next Day Air but addressed to the guy who moved out of our house eight years ago is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: deep thoughts on beach balls at concerts.

Margaret H.W. writes via email: "Why do music festivals seem to hand out beach balls to drunk, high 19-year-olds? If I would like to listen to music WITHOUT beach balls, what are my anti-beach-ball options? CAN I DEFLATE THE BEACH BALLS?

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun May 10, 2015

First Listen: The Milk Carton Kids, 'Monterey'

The Milk Carton Kids' new album, Monterey, comes out May 19.
Sara Kiesling Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu May 21, 2015 11:47 am

The Milk Carton Kids' Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan craft soft, timeless ballads in close harmony — and, as such, recall the reverently beautiful likes of Simon & Garfunkel. But, while the duo's first three albums are gorgeous throughout, the studio can have a way of making music just a little too impeccable.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Sat May 9, 2015

The Good Listener: Can A Song Really Save Your Life?

It's easy to imagine music standing between life and death.
Vladimir Vitek iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside a backup pallet of kennel-grade cat sedatives is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: thoughts on when music might stand between life and death.

Ann L. writes via email: "Can a song really save your life?"

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All Songs Considered
10:03 am
Mon April 27, 2015

Listen To A New Song By Mates Of State

Mates Of State's new EP, You're Going To Make It, comes out June 16.
Shervin Lainez Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon April 27, 2015 11:24 am

Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel aren't the first married couple to write songs about the challenges and celebrations inherent to lifelong love, but few focus more intently on a sense of play. Still, there's nothing naive or unrealistic about their songs: When they sing, "Love loud / Don't lose loud" in 2008's "The Re-Arranger," they're taking care to package a sweet little two-word slogan with a subtle but potent reminder that loving loudly is a job of endless maintenance.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Sat April 25, 2015

The Good Listener: Why Do People Hate Nickelback So Much?

Leave Nickelback alone!
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue May 5, 2015 4:11 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside flyers that assume we have the means to acquire luxury items is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This week: thoughts on the intensity of online backlash.

Andy S. writes via email: "Why do certain bands get singled out for seemingly out-of-proportion online hate? (See: Nickelback.)"

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Sat April 18, 2015

The Good Listener: How Much Should I Tip A Street Musician?

Tipping is customary for good service.
iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside bales of deep-discounted Easter candy is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on buskers, tipping and etiquette.

Holly R. writes via email: "How much of a tip is good for the street-side musician with a cup at his feet? What about for one playing in a bar?"

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun April 12, 2015

Review: San Fermin, 'Jackrabbit'

San Fermin's new album, Jackrabbit, comes out April 21.
Denny Renshaw Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 11:26 am

San Fermin's 2013 debut brims over with ideas: The brainchild of one guy, classically trained Brooklyn composer and multi-instrumentalist Ellis Ludwig-Leone, it's a nearly hourlong feast of gorgeous chamber-pop storytelling.

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First Listen
11:03 pm
Sun April 5, 2015

Review: Villagers, 'Darling Arithmetic'

Villagers' new album, Darling Arithmetic, comes out April 14.
Andrew Whitton Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 14, 2015 11:54 am

Villagers began as a lush one-man band with 2010's Becoming A Jackal, then morphed into an even more complex collaborative effort in time for 2013's {Awayland}, as Dublin singer-songwriter Conor O'Brien learned to work with a team he'd assembled.

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All Songs Considered
4:52 am
Sat April 4, 2015

The Good Listener: Have All The Good Songs Been Written?

Even Robert Johnson was synthesizing old ideas in new ways.
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside an assortment of expensive cat sedatives is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on whether all the great song ideas have been used up.

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All Songs Considered
10:20 am
Wed April 1, 2015

Song Premiere: Heartless Bastards, 'Gates Of Dawn'

Heartless Bastards' fifth album, Restless Ones, comes out June 16.
Courtney Chavanell Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 2:04 pm

For Heartless Bastards, rock 'n' roll entails a lot of heavy lifting, most often in the form of hundreds of club shows each year. It's a work ethic reflected on the Ohio-born, Austin-based band's albums, as singer/guitarist/powder-keg Erika Wennerstrom sets her rugged wail against the efforts of musicians churning out muscular blues-rock.

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