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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Newport Folk Festival
12:26 pm
Sun July 27, 2014

Jenny Lewis, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2014

Jenny Lewis performs at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Jenny Lewis' voice has helped provide a soundtrack to the last 15 years, but it's not part of one specific sound: She's sung heartsick ballads and spiky rock (in Rilo Kiley), summery surf-pop (in Jenny and Johnny), winsome electro-pop (in

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Newport Folk Festival
4:23 am
Sat July 26, 2014

The Devil Makes Three: Newport Folk 2014

Pete Bernhard (right) and Cooper McBean of The Devil Makes Three perform at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Sat July 26, 2014 1:43 pm

A thumbnail description of The Devil Makes Three — "acoustic string-band music with no drummer" — makes its music seem old-fashioned, even quaint. But the California trio plays with boozy aggression and unhinged intensity. If there were a Newport Punk Festival (and, really, why shouldn't there be?), The Devil Makes Three wouldn't be out of place in its lineup, amplification be damned.

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Newport Folk Festival
4:17 am
Sat July 26, 2014

Anais Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2014

Anais Mitchell (right) and Jefferson Hamer perform at the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.
Adam Kissick for NPR

Originally published on Sat July 26, 2014 1:40 pm

There's ambition rooted in the pursuit of personal glory, and then there's creative ambition, rooted in a desire to do what hasn't already been done. Anais Mitchell is a folksinger with a kind, approachable voice.

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All Songs Considered
6:41 am
Thu July 24, 2014

The Good Listener: When Is It OK To Hold Seats At A Festival?

These Newport Folk Festival fans knew well enough to position themselves a ways back from the stage.
Mito Habe-Evans NPR

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the flyers from reputable debt-consolidation companies is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a vexing piece of concert-going etiquette.

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First Listen
9:01 pm
Sun July 20, 2014

First Listen: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, 'Hypnotic Eye'

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' new album, Hypnotic Eye, comes out July 29.
Mary Ellen Matthews Courtesy of the artist

Even when he was in his late 20s, Tom Petty had a curmudgeonly edge to him, so it's no surprise that he's sneering about threats to the American dream in the opening moments of his new album, Hypnotic Eye. At 63, Petty is well into his transition to full-blown misanthropy, at times splitting the difference between Randy Newman and Bob Dylan.

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Music
5:35 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 1:37 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
5:03 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 9:39 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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All Songs Considered
10:03 am
Sat July 12, 2014

The Good Listener: Has The Term 'Indie Rock' Lost All Meaning?

If Arcade Fire sells gold and wins a Grammy for Album of the Year, is it still outside the mainstream?
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the flyers that either wildly underestimate or wildly overestimate our credit-worthiness is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on what constitutes "indie rock" in 2014.

Antfitgodd writes via Facebook: "The term 'indie' has been subsumed by major labels, whose acts often try to mimic indie-rock sensibilities — which changes what it means to play music that is not bland Top 40 drivel. Do you think 'indie rock' as a genre is dead?"

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First Listen
9:03 pm
Sun July 6, 2014

First Listen: Luluc, 'Passerby'

Luluc's new album, Passerby, comes out July 15.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 9:09 am

Luluc writes songs for late-night drives and uneventful mornings — stuff to slow the blood and the world outside. Bred in Australia but partly based in Brooklyn, Zoë Randell and Steve Hassett traffic in gentle, disarming simplicity, rarely allowing their music to speed up past a gentle lope. But for all their consistency of tone — and quality — Passerby's 10 songs never congeal into a blur or feel like a slog. Like the duo's labelmates in Low, Luluc uses calm as a medium unto itself.

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First Listen
9:03 pm
Sun July 6, 2014

First Listen: Trampled By Turtles, 'Wild Animals'

Trampled By Turtles' new album, Wild Animals, comes out July 15.
Zoran Orlić Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu July 17, 2014 9:11 am

The bluegrass-based Minnesota folk-rock band Trampled By Turtles knows how to play at extreme speeds, to the point where its careening compositions can seem downright unhinged. But its last two records, 2012's Stars and Satellites and the new Wild Animals, mostly move at a deliberate, even graceful pace.

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All Songs Considered
9:03 am
Fri July 4, 2014

The Good Listener: On Recommending Songs With Profanity

Cee-Lo.
Matthias Clamer Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside our neighbors' mis-delivered subscription copies of unnerving magazines is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on sharing music that might inadvertently expose someone else's kids to foul language.

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Tiny Desk Concerts
12:40 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

Lydia Loveless: Tiny Desk Concert

Alex Schelldorf NPR

Originally published on Thu July 3, 2014 9:46 am

For 23-year-old singer-guitarist Lydia Loveless, gritty, countrified blues-rock is a palette broad enough to include literary drama — complete with fatalistic references to the doomed French poets Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud — and a plainspoken plea for oral sex.

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All Songs Considered
10:03 am
Fri June 27, 2014

The Good Listener: When Should A 'Washed-Up' Band Pack It In?

Only one member of Quiet Riot remains from its early-'80s heyday — and the founding members are all gone. Does it matter?
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside a $23.95 book of cat cartoons by The Jesus Lizard's David Yow is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on when and whether once-successful musicians should give up.

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First Listen
9:03 pm
Sun June 22, 2014

First Listen: Old Crow Medicine Show, 'Remedy'

Old Crow Medicine Show's new album, Remedy, comes out July 1.
Andrea Behrends Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue July 1, 2014 10:51 am

Old Crow Medicine Show knows how to attract attention: The Virginia band's big, brash shows are carried off with rollicking energy and a carnival barker's showmanship.

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All Songs Considered
3:20 am
Sat June 21, 2014

The Good Listener: What Makes A Summer Song?

Summer is a season of simplicity.
iStockphoto.com

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside that one CD which appears to have been pulverized by a steamroller is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on what transforms a mere hit single into the agreed-upon song of the summer.

Kemper writes via Facebook: "When do we know what the song of summer will be? Have we already heard this year's song? If not, when do we typically start to hear it? Why do the other seasons lack their own song?"

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All Songs Considered
7:03 am
Mon June 16, 2014

Song Premiere: Sinead O'Connor, 'Take Me To Church'

Sinead O'Connor.
Donal Moloney Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed June 18, 2014 3:23 pm

Sinead O'Connor's nearly 30-year career forms a portrait of an artist in conflict; a brilliant singer who remains musically, politically and personally uncompromising after forays into folk, pop, standards, reggae and points beyond. By definition, her catalog is erratic, but it's consistently bold and surprising.

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First Listen
9:15 pm
Sun June 15, 2014

First Listen: Phox, 'Phox'

Phox's self-titled debut comes out June 24.
Jade Ehlers Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 24, 2014 8:28 am

The word "charisma" is often used to imply a certain kind of attention-grabbing showiness, or even neediness. But it can also suggest subtle ease; a simple gravitational pull that draws people in by making them feel comfortable and at home.

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All Songs Considered
10:09 am
Fri June 13, 2014

The Good Listener: When We Call Songs 'Filler,' What Does That Mean?

For fans of Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, filler is in the eye of the beholder.
David Black Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the large wooden crates housing our new summer interns is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on what makes some albums seem padded and inconsistent.

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All Songs Considered
11:39 am
Fri June 6, 2014

The Good Listener: What Makes A Hit Song Overplayed?

You can't spell "Pharrell's song is overplayed" without "Happy."
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri June 6, 2014 1:54 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside Bob Boilen's 64-ounce tub of Kirkland-brand gong polish is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on what separates a mere hit from an invasive irritant.

Chris Kiraly writes via Facebook: "When (if ever) does a song earn the distinction of being 'overplayed'?"

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