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 Spotify and Apple playlists 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 and Apple playlists at the bottom of the page.

This week's batch of essential new albums includes Robyn's melancholy return to the dance floor, rock-and-roll madness from Ty Segall, the otherworldly voice of NAO, singer Julia Holter's mind-blowing masterpiece Aviary, and more. Host Robin Hilton is joined by NPR Music's Ann Powers and Stephen Thompson as they run through the best full-length releases out on Oct. 26.

Featured Albums:

  1. Oh Pep! I Wasn't Only Thinking of You
    Featured Song: "25"
  2. Robyn: Honey
    Featured Song: "Human Being"

Believe it or not, Cher's dance anthem "Believe" has just turned 20 years old. The song, released on Oct. 22, 1998, kicked off a Cher renaissance, cemented her role as a pop icon and popularized a controversial fixture of pop music today — Auto-Tune.

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

We all have distractions in our lives that keep us from working, studying, concentrating or otherwise attempting to unlock something in our own brains. It could be roommates, or coworkers, or the 24/7 rage-spigot of the Internet, or something else entirely, but we all have outside forces we need to drown out without merely adding more chaos to the mix. This two-hour playlist is engineered to help.

With Robin Hilton out for one more week, NPR Music's Ann Powers and Lars Gotrich join me for a whirlwind tour of a busy release day. We've got the first album in five years by the spiky pop-rock band Swearin' (featuring the great and good Allison Crutchfield); the gorgeous first album in six years by Chan Marshall, a.k.a.

If last week felt a little more... exhausting than usual, you're not alone. And if you're already finding yourself in need of a palliative before lunchtime on a Monday, well, you've come to the right place.

Robin Hilton is out this week, so we kick off this installment of New Music Friday by blaring some Cher, whose new album of ABBA covers is a must for anyone who flipped out when the singer made her entrance in this summer's Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again.

A Flint native who's become a staple of Detroit's music scene, Tunde Olaniran knows his way around hyphens: A singer-rapper-activist-choreographer-producer-you-name-it, he presides over a bighearted sound and style that revolve around spirited statements of affirmation, a sprawling artistic palette and the pursuit of boldness in every sense of the word.

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

Guitarist Marc Ribot has an unpredictable and far-reaching catalog that's taken him through rock, jazz and many avant-garde variations thereon. Now, he's releasing a pointedly titled set of protest music — Songs of Resistance 1942-2018 — that calls on a group of guests as versatile and iconoclastic as he is.

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.


Low began in 1993 as an exercise in restraint, with songs that rang out softly, clearly and, above all, slowly. Giving each isolated note space to reverberate, Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker wrung intense drama from songs that could be unsettlingly spare, lyrically vague and, at times, almost unnervingly pretty.

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.

Dermot Kennedy took this assignment seriously. The Dublin singer-songwriter wasn't content with merely re-creating his songs as they sound in the studio, or stripping lavish productions down to simple acoustic arrangements. So he got himself a gospel choir.

More specifically, Kennedy and his band flew in from Ireland a day ahead of time to meet and rehearse with members of Washington, D.C.'s Howard Gospel Choir. Every arrangement was painstakingly plotted ahead of time, so that every note would be perfect.

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.

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.

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