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.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Bandcamp playlist at the bottom of the page.

Childish Gambino's "This Is America" and The Carters' "APES***" were the most talked-about videos of the last year, at least if the metric you use involves thinkpieces and social-media chatter. But by the time Madonna announced the video of the year winner on Monday night's MTV Video Music Awards, the two had been largely relegated to afterthoughts.

Earlier this week, Guns N' Roses' video for "November Rain" hit a curious milestone: Released in 1992, it's the oldest video ever to be streamed a billion times on YouTube.

Bon Iver may take its time between albums, but bandleader Justin Vernon remains a geyser of ideas in his off hours. On Wednesday, he and a pair of fellow idea-geysers — The National's Aaron and Bryce Dessner — launched a new platform for listening, called PEOPLE, and populated it with a trove of music. That trove includes songs by the duo of Aaron Dessner and Vernon, recording under the name Big Red Machine.

Most music-industry awards shows hand out armloads of trophies, but the Americana Music Association only gives out six. Besides a handful of lifetime achievement awards — which, for this year, have yet to be announced — the only categories are for best album, artist, duo/group, emerging artist, song and instrumentalist.

Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison, whose bleak but often triumphantly arranged rock songs tackled depression, anxiety and self-doubt, was found dead at Port Edgar near South Queensberry, Scotland, around 8:30 p.m. local time on Thursday, Edinburgh Police confirmed in a statement provided to NPR. He was 36.

Last year, NPR Music and NPR member stations across the country launched a new series called Slingshot designed to boost the careers of up-and-coming public radio favorites. Since the beginning of 2018, 22 new Slingshot artists have been announced. Many of them are about to head to Austin, Texas, for next week's South By Southwest Music Festival. To preview the big event, here are a few artist recommendations from the Slingshot series.

The Austin 100

Mar 1, 2018

In the middle of every March, the SXSW Music Festival fills Austin, Texas, with thousands of musicians from around the world. It's a marathon so daunting — it's a marathon and a sprint, really — that even longtime SXSW veterans need a hand winnowing the festival's countless discoveries down to digestible doses.

That's where The Austin 100 comes in. Handpicked from thousands of bands playing at this year's festival, these 100 songs highlight the best SXSW 2018 has to offer — songs from around the world, across a broad spectrum of genres, sounds and styles.

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Sego's "Whatever Forever" unpacks the inner monologue of a frenetic and frustrated mind: Bored and anxious, singer Spencer Petersen rambles and seethes over a throbbing bassline until it's time for a soaring chorus that feels both chaotic and cathartic.

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.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMERICAN GIRL")

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

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REFUGEE")

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

And now a goodbye to the Warped Tour.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE ROCK SHOW")

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.

For such an unassuming rock star, Tom Petty sure got to live a lot of lives.

MTV is the TV network most widely associated with short attention spans. So it makes sense that its Video Music Awards would function as a jarring and disjointed jumble of moments — a howl of protest followed immediately by a singer's tears of joy, or a heartfelt speech by a grieving mother giving way to a performance of "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy" by Rod Stewart and DNCE. In such a barrage, it's unfair to expect any one performance, speech or spectacle to rise above the others, especially as the telecast stretched past three hours.

Let's get one issue out of the way up front: MTV is never again going to build its programming around music videos. For that, viewers have YouTube — as well as MTV's lower-stakes spinoff channels — and besides, if you're old enough to remember when MTV's programming revolved around videos, then you're almost certainly too old for MTV to care what you think.

Last month, Mutual Benefit released an album-length cover of Vashti Bunyan's 1970 classic Just Another Diamond Day — an act of tribute initiated as part of an ambitious series by the website Turntable Kitchen.

The Lone Bellow's earnest and magnetic folk-pop was built to shake the rafters: It's hooky and rousing and performed with absolute commitment. It has been since the beginning, from the band's charming, self-titled 2013 debut through the Aaron Dessner-produced Then Came The Morning two years later. And, if a new song called "Time's Always Leaving" is any indication, it'll carry on through the release of The Lone Bellow's third album, Walk Into A Storm.

Musicians cover each other's songs often enough that the results rarely qualify as news. But covering a whole album, song for song? That's a labor of love ambitious enough to warrant attention.

If you've ever attended a gigantic music festival, you've seen them: row upon row of portable toilets collecting untold oceans of human waste. They help create a piquant bouquet that also includes steaming asphalt, deep-fried corn-dog batter, a slurry of mud and torn-up grass, and the sundry odors that can only emanate from a broad cross-section of humanity assembled in one place.

What you probably haven't done — although who's to say, really? — is pondered the collection of 50,000 liters (minimum) of human urine and thought, "What a waste."

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