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.

All Songs Considered
11:00 am
Fri July 18, 2014

NPR Music Returns For 2014's Newport Folk Festival

Hurray For The Riff Raff performed at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival — and makes a return engagement this year.
Meagan Beauchemin NPR

Originally published on Fri July 18, 2014 11:39 am

The Newport Folk Festival has been around for more than half a century now — this is its 55th year, to be exact — and the event now routinely sells out months before its lineup is even announced. And why shouldn't it?

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Newport Folk Festival
11:00 am
Fri July 18, 2014

At 2014's Newport Folk Festival, 5 Discoveries To Stretch Folk's Limits

If you look closely, Reignwolf's guitar is plugged in. Newport's 1965 crowd would not be pleased.
Dana Yavin

Originally published on Mon July 21, 2014 3:37 pm

From its legendary beachfront locale to its celebrations of folk music's past, the Newport Folk Festival draws on more than half a century of celebrated traditions. But it's also an event in which folk's boundaries are tested: This is, after all, where Bob Dylan famously plugged in an electric guitar 49 years ago, in the process enraging the purists in the crowd.

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All Songs Considered
1:52 pm
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

Originally published on Fri May 2, 2014 10:48 am

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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Best Music Of 2013
12:50 pm
Fri December 27, 2013

2013: The Year In Tiny Desk Concerts

Hayley Bartels NPR

Originally published on Fri December 27, 2013 10:20 am

For weeks now, we've been compiling lists of 2013's best music — favorite albums, favorite songs, individual staff members' personal Top 10 lists and so on.

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Music
4:29 pm
Tue December 10, 2013

Indie-Pop Albums That Make The Cut Are More Than Mere Collections

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 12:30 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At NPR Music, they're wrapping up the year the best way they know how, with their hotly contested list of their 50 favorite albums of 2013. Now, all this week, we'll get a peak of that list from our in-house experts, including NPR Music writer and editor Stephen Thompson, whose beat is the ever amorphous indie pop, which - Stephen, what exactly is that these days?

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: I have absolutely no idea. It used to mean accessible but unpopular.

CORNISH: OK. So...

(LAUGHTER)

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Tiny Desk Concerts
8:15 am
Sat November 16, 2013

John Legend: Tiny Desk Concert

John Legend performs at the Tiny Desk Concert on Wednesday, October 23, 2013.
Abbey Oldham Abbey Oldham/NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 2:28 pm

At 34, John Legend has sold millions of records, won nine Grammys, collaborated with many of the biggest stars in music (Jay-Z, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, The Roots, et al), and achieved the kind of statesmanlike musical-ambassador status usually afforded to artists twice his age.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
2:03 am
Sun November 3, 2013

Ashley Monroe: Tiny Desk Concert

Ashley Monroe performs at a Tiny Desk Concert in September 2013.
Chloe Coleman Chloe Coleman/NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 3:54 pm

In the last few years, Ashley Monroe has cobbled together an impressive country-music pedigree by working alongside both upstarts (Pistol Annies with Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley) and longtime Nashville veterans (Vince Gill produced Monroe's solo album Like a Rose), and even collaborating with Jack White every now

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Tiny Desk Concerts
10:05 am
Tue October 22, 2013

Daughter: Tiny Desk Concert

Daughter performs a Tiny Desk Concert in August 2013.
Chloe Coleman NPR

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 6:04 pm

Daughter first popped up on our radar when we heard the London band's song "Landfill" while preparing for SXSW early last year: Achingly pretty and melancholy, the track builds to an absolute gut-punch of a line — "I want you so much, but I hate your guts" — that conjures a pitch-perfect mix of gloom, desire and hostility.

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Newport Folk Festival
1:31 pm
Sun July 28, 2013

Justin Townes Earle, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Meagan Beauchemin for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:44 pm

Justin Townes Earle has marinated in outlaw country music his whole life: The son of Steve Earle, named for the legendary Townes Van Zandt, was born to be an iconoclast.

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Newport Folk Festival
1:31 pm
Sun July 28, 2013

Shovels & Rope, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Meagan Beauchemin NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:39 pm

Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent have spent the last decade or so singing sweetly, rowdily anthemic folk-country music together, most recently under the name Shovels & Rope. But the South Carolina husband-and-wife duo has only recently begun to take off on a national scale, thanks to a string of fantastically stirring live performances and a fi

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Newport Folk Festival
1:31 pm
Sun July 28, 2013

The Milk Carton Kids, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:41 pm

When they perform onstage as The Milk Carton Kids, Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale are half Simon & Garfunkel, half Smothers Brothers: Their melancholic harmonies intertwine beautifully, while their playful, deadpan banter is worth the price of admission on its own.

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Newport Folk Festival
1:31 pm
Sun July 28, 2013

Hurray For The Riff Raff, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Hurray For The Riff Raff performs at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival.
Meagan Beauchemin NPR

Originally published on Mon July 7, 2014 5:10 pm

The New Orleans band Hurray for the Riff Raff exists as a vehicle for the powerhouse songs of singer-songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra, whose gigantic voice conveys the grit of bluesy soul while still fitting within the realms of rootsy folk and country. The group just followed its dynamite 2012 album Look Out Mama with a Kickstarter-funded collection of covers (and two originals) called My Dearest Darkest Neighbor.

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Newport Folk Festival
1:31 pm
Sun July 28, 2013

John McCauley, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:37 pm

In the hands of John McCauley — who initially founded the group Deer Tick as a solo project — playing rowdy, free-wheeling rock 'n' roll is a feat free of self-importance.

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Newport Folk Festival
1:31 pm
Sun July 28, 2013

Phosphorescent, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Phosphorescent performs at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick NPR

Originally published on Wed July 9, 2014 11:04 am

Raised in Alabama and based in Brooklyn, Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck makes moody, searching, raggedly pretty music that reflects the sounds of both his respective homes. But there's also a wise, homesick weariness to Houck's voice that transcends time and place: Listen at just the right time, and a Phosphorescent record feels like a warm conversation with a friend who understands loneliness.

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Newport Folk Festival
1:31 pm
Sun July 28, 2013

Hey Marseilles, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:36 pm

The Seattle septet Hey Marseilles makes some of the most good-natured chamber-pop music around, led by the unmistakably kind voice of Matt Bishop. Naturally, given the band's size, Hey Marseilles gets to make the most of a wide array of warm sounds, from cello and viola to horns and accordions, but those ingredients are all wisely wrapped around songwriting that exudes sweet, hooky sunshine.

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Newport Folk Festival
1:30 pm
Sun July 28, 2013

JD McPherson, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:35 pm

JD McPherson provides a refreshing reminder that retro roots music isn't timid: His debut album, Signs & Signifiers, synthesizes blues and rockabilly and old-school rock 'n' roll with an unmistakable punk spirit. Throughout the record, he finds the delicate balance between a classic, traditionalist sound and the understanding that the styles he's emulating are rooted in rebellion, menace and even danger.

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Newport Folk Festival
1:30 pm
Sun July 28, 2013

Kingsley Flood, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2013

Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Fri June 20, 2014 3:34 pm

The Boston band Kingsley Flood has spent the last few years polishing, refining and expanding its folk-rock sound, in the process incorporating horns, more strings and ever-brighter production. The sextet sounds more confident than ever on its new album, Battles, which continues to explore some of Kingsley Flood's favorite subject matter: the balance of hopes and dreams, expectations and the everyday.

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