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.

Ray LaMontagne's music ought to be easy to pin down: He is, after all, a prolifically bearded, reclusive type with an acoustic guitar and an approachable voice. His music even dredges up familiar roots-music signifiers, from The Band-style ramblers to softly rendered ballads that recall Iron and Wine's Sam Beam.

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.

Odetta Hartman's songs have a way of spraying ideas in every direction. Sometimes, they don't even feel like songs so much as fragments, interludes or brief, fleeting brainstorms — blurted phrases set against chopped-up bits of violin, banjo, samples and effects.

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.

Back in 2016, Irish singer-songwriter Naomi Hamilton — a.k.a. Jealous of the Birds — was one of NPR Music's favorite SXSW discoveries. Her song "Goji Berry Sunset" demonstrated a remarkable gift for converting spare and common ingredients (voice, acoustic guitar, a bit of whistling) into a sound that's dense, gently hypnotic and utterly her own.

Australian singer-songwriter Gordi (a.k.a. Sophie Payten) has a dusky and evocative voice that usually gets enshrouded somehow: It often sounds like it's echoing down a stairwell, or else she's bathed it in vocal effects a la Imogen Heap or Gordi's occasional tourmate, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.

It's springtime, and depending on where you live, you've likely either already begun the year's first May weekend or are getting ready to set out into the world. The air hangs thick with anticipation, with hope, with pollen — these are heady times, and you need a song to mirror the intensity and wonder of it all.

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.


So many 1990s alt-rock hit-makers have reunited over the years, it's hard to keep track of who's coming back, who's never left, and who's already returned to the shadows. Most have attempted a comeback at least once — Jesus Jones released an album just last week — so it's rarely a surprise to encounter a press announcement from a reconstituted Deep Blue Something or Crash Test Dummies.

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.

A quick scan of the headlines reveals, for those who'd let it slip their minds, that the world is essentially an exploding toilet of governmental crisis and global conflict. A quick scan of tomorrow's headlines will likely reveal, for those who dare anticipate them, an entirely new set of threats and catastrophes. The old ones won't have resolved themselves, mind you; they'll merely have been joined by a fresh set of nauseating calamities, each landing in our lives with the shudder-inducing plop of a full diaper dropped off a tall building.

For Tunde Olaniran, art is about big ambitions, bigger ideas and the relentless pursuit of joy and comfort within his own skin. The Flint, Mich., native's bold and wildly dynamic 2015 debut Transgressor announced him as a playful multi-hyphenate provocateur who sings, raps, writes and choreographs from a vast well of creativity.

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.

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.

Austin singer-songwriter Mélat Kassa used her hometown's recent SXSW music festival as a springboard to reach new fans from around the world. Mélat, who performs under her first name only, crafts a smart and stylish sound that's inspired by a mix of contemporary American R&B and Ethiopian pop. At the Austin Convention Center's Radio Day Stage earlier this month, she performed her standout single "Push" with the help of a stripped-down live band.

SET LIST

  • "Push"

We don't always delve into music on Pop Culture Happy Hour, but this year's South By Southwest music festival gave us a nice opportunity to spread around a few recommendations. I'm already renowned for never shutting up about the six-hour playlist NPR Music calls The Austin 100 — which, it turns out, you can still stream and download in its entirety until March 31 — but what we've got here is a slightly more digestible discussion of 2018's SXSW highlights.

In the run-up to SXSW 2015, the All Songs Considered team could agree on one pop jam to rule them all: Genevieve's "Colors." Sometimes billed as "Show Your Colors," the song has popped up in commercials and landed the singer at the Tiny Desk, where curmudgeonly pop skeptic Bob Boilen couldn't help but marvel at how thoroughly he'd been won over.

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.


Every band needs to refresh and reconsider its sound sooner or later, no matter how sharp it's gotten over the course of a long career. Creative stagnation comes for us all — even The Decemberists, a band whose records have always come bursting with verve and verbosity.

Sampling the thousands of bands playing South By Southwest each year is like trying to take a sip from a tidal wave: It's hard to find an entry point, and you're more than likely going to wind up flattened.

Next week, the annual music festival kicks off in Austin, Texas, so All Things Considered weekend host Michel Martin requested a digestible primer — five songs by artists worth hearing this year.

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.

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