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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All Songs Considered
9:03 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
9:03 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 10:55 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
9:03 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 10:56 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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First Listen
9:20 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 1:32 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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First Listen
9:03 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 1:31 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
9:03 pm
Sun April 27, 2014

First Listen: Kishi Bashi, 'Lighght'

Kishi Bashi's new album, Lighght, comes out May 13.
Kaden Shallat Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri June 13, 2014 11:50 am

K. Ishibashi opens his second solo album, Lighght, by taking a tone-setting 48-second violin solo. Titled "Début - Impromptu," it skids and squeaks with accelerating abandon until the notes distort and smash together chaotically; by the end, the instrument has become largely indistinguishable from the machines he so often uses to loop and manipulate it. It's equal parts introduction and mission statement for Lighght, in which technique and experimentation collide in high-spirited, even disorienting ways.

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First Listen
7:30 am
Mon April 21, 2014

First Listen: Pixies, 'Indie Cindy'

The Pixies new album, Indie Cindy, comes out April 29.
Jay Blakesberg Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 7:40 am

Last year, My Bloody Valentine released its first album since 1991, and the result sounded as if not a minute had passed in the intervening 22 years. Every bleary, bended note of m b v sounded immaculately crafted, as if Kevin Shields and company had been toiling away in pursuit of perfection since the release of Loveless and merely lost track of time.

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All Songs Considered
1:39 pm
Thu April 17, 2014

The Good Listener: Does The World Still Need Cassettes?

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the postage-paid crates we'll use to ship home the spring interns is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on cassette tapes and their utility in 2014.

Jennifer Spuehler writes via Facebook: "Will there be a place for cassette tapes in the future? What should I do with cassette tapes — especially those beloved mixtapes — that don't have a place to live anymore?

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Field Recordings
6:03 am
Thu April 17, 2014

Merchandise Sprawls Out In The Sunlight

Merchandise performing "Become What You Are" for a NPR Field Recording.
NPR

Originally published on Tue July 8, 2014 11:13 am

Merchandise got its start on the Tampa punk and hardcore scene, then got weirder as artier influences like krautrock took hold. As its sound became harder to pin down, the band inspired an 18-month bidding war between record labels: This year, Merchandise finally signed with 4AD, and adventurous new material has begun to trickle out.

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All Songs Considered
3:25 pm
Thu April 10, 2014

The Good Listener: How Do I Appear Knowledgeable Without Acting Like A Jerk?

Jack Black in a scene from the 2003 film School Of Rock
Andrew Schwartz PARAMOUNT

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the fliers for yard-cleaning services that know a big job when they see one are a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on ways to drop musical knowledge without seeming obnoxious.

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