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.

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Afropop

Why We're Excited: Born in Sudan and based in Brooklyn, with other stops along the way, Alsarah is used to fusing the sounds and styles of disparate cultures. As leader of Alsarah & The Nubatones, she accurately describes her approach as "East African Retro-Pop" — a lavish, joyful, era-spanning sound full of Arabic-language reflections on identity and survival. It's modern and nostalgic, timeless and new.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Franklin County, Virginia

Genre: Americana

Hometown: Gdańsk, Poland

Genre: Psychedelic Rock

Why We're Excited: Trupa Trupa frontman Grzegorz Kwiatkowski is a published poet, but in "To Me," he limits his lyrical output to precisely three words: "Away / To me." That leaves Trupa Trupa to pound out a hefty blast of warped and churning psych-rock thunder that culminates in a full-band freakout of hair-raising proportions.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Newtown, Connecticut

Genre: Indie Rock

Why We're Excited: Writing and playing strange, twisty, lo-fi rock under the name Stove, Ovlov's Steve Hartlett has spent the past few years churning out a loose assortment of shambling bedroom recordings. Like Sebadoh before it, Stove has a gift for letting disarming beauty slip through the tape hiss; for proof, try "dumb phone," a scuffed-up, sweetly strummed gem highlighted by lovely vocal harmonies.

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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.

Haley Heynderickx's songs have a way of sneaking up on you: They start out spare, animated by a lone voice or a subtly snaky guitar line, only to billow out into something strange, beautiful, bracingly intense or some combination thereof.

The trajectory of the night said it all. The 60th Grammy Awards opened Sunday with the promise of an explosive performance by apparent frontrunner Kendrick Lamar, punctuated by superstar cameos (U2, Dave Chappelle) and a heady cocktail of grit and visual imagination. The show closed with the completion of the least exciting possible sweep, as Bruno Mars — a gamely appealing pop star whose funky but lightweight jams peppered radio playlists all year — won Album Of The Year (for 24K Magic), Record Of The Year (for "24K Magic") and Song Of The Year (for "That's What I Like").

The Grammy Awards have many roles to play in the cultural conversation. Above all, they're a music-industry showcase and infomercial, stuffed with three and a half hours of live performances meant to spark social-media conversation — and, by extension, sales, streams and TV ratings. But they also function as a way to crown what you might call ambassadors: marketable standard-bearers the industry sees as its faces and future. Each year, the Grammys provide a window into how the music business wishes to see itself, which in turn makes each telecast a surprisingly useful snapshot.

Every year around this time, many of us on the All Songs Considered team — including Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton and me — each dredge through nearly 2,000 MP3s by bands playing the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, in search of great new discoveries. And every year, we wind up missing something. In pursuit of music by thousands of acts, hundreds slip past our radar altogether.

When The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel won two Golden Globes a few weekends back — one for Best Musical or Comedy TV Series and one for its star, Rachel Brosnahan — it helped transform a word-of-mouth sleeper hit into a something closer to a phenomenon. So it only made sense to discuss the show in depth.

When The Decemberists release I'll Be Your Girl on March 16, it'll be the band's eighth album — part of a 17-year career that's taken listeners through everything from wry folk to ambitious rock opera. If I'll Be Your Girl's first single is any indication, Colin Meloy and his band have used their new record as an opportunity to try new things and hit a few reset buttons along the way.

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.

The last time bandleader Kim Deal, her sister Kelley Deal, bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim Macpherson got together to make a record, they recorded The Breeders' 1993 classic Last Splash, a wiry and infectious burst of sly invention and shambling joy. On March 2, at long last, that lineup returns with All Nerve, the first full-length Breeders album with any lineup since 2008.

[Note: In this discussion, I refer to Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 2 as the third-highest-grossing movie of 2017, after Beauty And The Beast and Wonder Woman. We recorded this episode before the holidays, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi has since surpassed all three.]

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


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


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.

Phoebe Bridgers' songs come laden with sly, finely detailed observations about unsuccessful flirtations with hypnotherapy, unsettling conversations about Jeffrey Dahmer, and everything in between. Her phrasing is impeccable — warm, cool, conversational, gently slurred — but her songs also swim in the self-aware obsessions and messy meanderings of an unquiet mind.

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.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit


And now a goodbye to the Warped Tour.


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.

Superman (Linda Holmes) was nowhere to be found, so Batman (Glen Weldon) and I (Wonder W... okay, I see where this is an imperfect analogy) were forced to assemble a new superteam to discuss the new DC Comics blockbuster Justice League. So we brought in two of our dear pals — Tasha Robinson from The Verge and Daoud Tyler-Ameen from NPR Music — to discuss a great big mash-up of moods, stars and stories. It's a lot to take in.

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.

An all-star remake of 1974's all-star adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1934 novel of the same name (got all that?), Murder On The Orient Express stars Kenneth Branagh as the elaborately mustachioed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, who attempts to solve a baffling case involving a stabbing death on a snowbound passenger train. Branagh also directed the new film, which features the likes of Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leslie Odom Jr., Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench and many others.