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
Mon December 22, 2014

Dessa: Something Old And Something New, Suitable For Choir

Dessa recently reworked two of her songs with Minnesota's VocalEssence choir.
Kelly Loverud Courtesy of the artist

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All Songs Considered
5:53 am
Thu December 11, 2014

Stephen Thompson's Top 10 Albums Of 2014

Beyonce unleashed the year's grandest and most enduring pop juggernaut (even if it technically came out in 2013).
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Thu December 11, 2014 8:15 am

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Mon December 8, 2014

Song Premiere: San Fermin, 'Parasites'

Ellis Ludwig-Leone of San Fermin.
Denny Renshaw Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon December 8, 2014 10:54 am

San Fermin's self-titled 2013 debut is an intricately composed set of impeccable chamber-folk songs, written in solitude by Ellis Ludwig-Leone and performed by a small army of highly trained ringers. By the time the album came out, Ludwig-Leone had already written a sequel in a similar spirit.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat November 22, 2014

The Good Listener: Do Some Musicians Play Too Well?

Is Yngwie Malmsteen too good at playing guitar for his own good?
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sat November 22, 2014 10:26 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the Pokemon products whose arrival signals our kids' descent into video-game-induced catatonia is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on whether superior technique can detract from music's quality.

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All Songs Considered
8:18 am
Sat November 15, 2014

The Good Listener: For Thanksgiving, Is There Music Everyone Can Agree On?

"I just love this music. Is this Nurse With Wound's collaborative album with Current 93?"
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Sat November 15, 2014 2:07 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the Kung Fu Panda DVD to replace the one we wore out is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on a playlist for the whole family.

Joe writes via email: "Thanksgiving will be at my family's place this year, and I'm having fun with the meal-planning. All the stress, though, is built around how my relatives and I get along. We love each other, but ... you know how families are with politics and different tastes and all that.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat November 8, 2014

The Good Listener: Am I Too Old To Go To Rock Shows?

Can you be too old for rock 'n' roll?
iStockphoto

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the pulverized shards of an Eli "Paperboy" Reed LP is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on how aging might affect your concert attendance.

Michaela writes via email: "I'm growing increasingly conscious of being among the oldest attendees at concerts lately. Is there a specific age at which I should stop going to indie-rock shows and just stay at home in my rocker?"

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All Songs Considered
7:07 am
Sat November 1, 2014

The Good Listener: How Do I Share Music With My Kids? Should I?

How do you share music with your kids without going overboard?
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Sat November 1, 2014 1:03 pm

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the bales of fan letters for HMSTR is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, tips for new parents who can't wait to share their favorite songs with their kids.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat October 25, 2014

The Good Listener: Where's All The Great Halloween Music?

Dead Man's Bones' 2009 debut belongs in any discussion of Halloween music.
Hama Sanders Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the fake blood we ordered for our son's Andrew W.K. costume is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on Halloween music.

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All Songs Considered
11:05 am
Thu October 23, 2014

Song Premiere, Robin Bacior, 'If It Does'

Robin Bacior's new album, Water Dreams, comes out Jan. 13.
Kim Smith Miller Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on

Robin Bacior's honeyed but vibrant voice hits gently, bestowing the listener with comfort and calm. The Portland singer-songwriter knows exactly what kind of arrangements suit her best: In "If It Does," from her forthcoming album Water Dreams, that gorgeous voice is laid atop a spare but shimmering bed of piano — and paired perfectly with Dan Bindschedler's cello.

This is subtle, nuanced music: Like the rest of Bacior's work, "If It Does" doesn't grab you audaciously. But it doesn't let go, either.

Here's Bacior, writing about "If It Does":

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat October 18, 2014

The Good Listener: How Can I Become A 'Music Person'?

A reader grew up listening to Rick Astley and now needs to know: Is it too late?
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the shoes our kids outgrew in the time it took to have them shipped is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on remedial music fandom.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat October 11, 2014

The Good Listener: When You Need To Concentrate, Which Music Is Best?

With Twin Peaks coming back in 2016, it's a perfect time to let Angelo Badalamenti's score return to your headphones.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sat October 11, 2014 9:33 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the promotional ghost peppers we unwittingly spilled on our pants is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, a request for music to fill your head with sound, but not distractions.

Quint Smith writes via Twitter: "I'd love to see that editing playlist with Stars Of The Lid you mentioned on [Pop Culture Happy Hour] posted somewhere. I'm in need of ideas."

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All Songs Considered
1:20 pm
Mon October 6, 2014

The Lone Bellow, 'Then Came The Morning'

The Lone Bellow's second album, Then Came The Morning, comes out early next year.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed October 29, 2014 9:40 am

Brooklyn's The Lone Bellow seemed to arrive fully formed: Its self-titled 2013 debut came stuffed with intricately assembled bundles of crowd-pleasing folk-pop, each more dramatic and infectious than the last. Charismatic, photogenic, endlessly hooky — The Lone Bellow has been the complete package since day one.

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All Songs Considered
3:50 am
Sat October 4, 2014

The Good Listener: How Do I Avoid 'The iTunes Pit Of Despair'?

The "Playlist" feature will help keep you from losing track of the albums you absolutely must hear.
Stephen Thompson NPR

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the ingredients to an Ozzy Osbourne costume that'll fit a 10-year-old girl is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on managing a library while maintaining one's connection to music.

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All Songs Considered
5:54 am
Sat September 27, 2014

The Good Listener: When Was Pop Music At Its Lowest Point?

We like his early stuff better, before he sold out and joined The Stray Mob.
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and among the Penzeys Spices catalogs that help us remember our ex-roommates' names is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on pop music's nadir.

Josh in Chicago writes via email: "Paula Abdul had four No. 1 hits, spanning 1989-90. One of them featured a rapping cartoon cat. Was that period the nadir of pop, pre-Nirvana?"

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat September 20, 2014

The Good Listener: Saying No To 'Songstress' And Other Forbidden Words

Sarah McLachlan gets called a "songstress" a lot. Translation: "Look everyone, a lady is singing a song!"
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sat September 20, 2014 9:31 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the unsolicited phone books we toss straight into the recycling bin is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on words we'd prefer never to hear associated with music.

Eleanor writes via email: "You've tweeted about your hatred of the word 'songstress.' Writing about music is tricky, but what words do you think should ALWAYS be avoided, and why?"

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All Songs Considered
3:33 am
Sat September 13, 2014

The Good Listener: Do You Ever Just Get Sick Of Music?

Maybe the release of a new U2 album isn't cause to declare the death of all music.
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the Amazon Prime order containing items we could have acquired at the nearest vending machine is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on fatigue and embitterment.

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All Songs Considered
4:11 am
Sun September 7, 2014

The Good Listener: Where Are All The Great Songs About Football?

No, "The Super Bowl Shuffle" does not count.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Sun September 7, 2014 9:55 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside a stuffed Pikachu the size of an ottoman is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on music to accompany the new football season.

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All Songs Considered
4:54 am
Sun August 31, 2014

The Good Listener: Parents Just Don't Understand?

DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince said it themselves: There's no need to argue.
Jive Records YouTube

Originally published on Sun August 31, 2014 5:46 am

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the gigantic bottle of Marmite we probably shouldn't have ordered on a late-night whim is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on getting your parents into your favorite music.

Erik writes via Facebook: "How do you get your parents to respect the music of today?"

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All Songs Considered
3:29 am
Sat August 23, 2014

The Good Listener: Can I Ask Loud Talkers At Outdoor Concerts To (Please) Shut Up?

You're looking at Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes. But about 50 feet in front of him is a dude who will not shut up.
Adam Kissick for NPR

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the letters informing us that we've won amazing prizes in contests we didn't enter is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on etiquette at outdoor concerts.

Karyl writes via email: "Is it OK to ask incessant loud talkers to stop talking or to talk softly at an outside concert?"

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Mon August 11, 2014

Song Premiere: Stars, 'From The Night'

Stars' new album, No One Is Lost, comes out Oct. 14.
Shervin Lainez Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed October 29, 2014 10:15 am

Stars' music has assumed many forms, from shimmery power-pop to full-throttle dance-floor fillers to doomy ballads about death and romantic dissolution. Throughout the Montreal band's seven-album history, the recurring thread has mostly been songs that reflect some sort of conflict, whether singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell are viewing breakups from every angle or musing on death itself.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Sat August 9, 2014

The Good Listener: How Much Is Too Much To Pay For A Concert T-Shirt?

"Ooh, Love Horse, definitely one of those. Wait, forty dollars?!"
iStockphoto

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the promotional Pop Rocks we're consuming as noisily as possible is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on what we should feel comfortable spending on T-shirts at live shows.

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All Songs Considered
8:03 am
Fri August 1, 2014

The Good Listener: Why Do Band Photos Look Like That, Anyway?

Banjo! Exposed brick! Open sky! Still, Mumford and Sons, you could use some hay bales...
Courtesy of the artist

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the Archer paraphernalia we bought at Comic-Con and shipped to ourselves is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, thoughts on musicians' publicity photos.

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All Songs Considered
6:03 am
Mon July 28, 2014

Horse Feathers, 'Violently Wild'

Horse Feathers.
John Clark Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed October 29, 2014 8:38 am

Describing Horse Feathers almost inevitably diminishes the band's music: "Let's see, the lead singer has a beard and a soft voice, and he plays the acoustic guitar, and there's a string section. Oh, and they're from Portland, of course." All those identifying details hold true, and yet Horse Feathers' music never feels slight or ineffectual.

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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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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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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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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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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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