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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Look, it's gonna be a tough week. Maybe you stayed up late watching the Oscars and you're already underslept; maybe there's a lot going on at work right now; and certainly, if nothing else, whatever transpires in the news will accumulate so quickly, you won't believe that only four days have passed by the time we get to Friday.

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: Henderson, Nevada

Genre: Bedroom Pop

Why We're Excited: Nick Rattigan sings and plays drums in the surf-rock band Surf Curse, but he's been doing more and more with the solo bedroom pop songs he writes under the name Current Joys. Propelled by sinewy guitar lines and sweeping synths, songs like "Fear" — from a new, self-directed "visual album" titled A Different Age — reflect on the underbelly of modern life without resorting to self-pity.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: London, England

Genre: Rock / Pop

Why We're Excited: Nilüfer Yanya got her start as an R&B singer, but she's more recently morphed into a sparer and more pop-minded sound. Her breakthrough single, "Baby Luv," pairs her smoky voice with a hook that isn't repetitious so much as hypnotically alluring.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Dallas, Texas

Genre: Metal / Stoner Rock

Why We're Excited: Named for a Hawaii 5-0 villain, Wo Fat cuts its thick, doomy metal with bluesy psychedelia and an agreeable Southern-rock chug that makes lines like "We are the riffborn!" ring out like mantras for a life of heavy-metal triumph.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Genre: Americana

Why We're Excited: Collapsing Stars' languid folk songs are punctuated by forceful stabs of bluesy guitar — and, in the case of "The Storm," a few appropriate nature sounds. The effect can be whispery and beautiful, but the band's music maintains a welcome undercurrent of reflection, doubt and even dread.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Vundabar's spiky, caustic, fundamentally good-natured rock and roll bears the weight of grim experience: Singer Brandon Hagen wrote the band's third album, Smell Smoke, while tending to a gravely ill loved one. But songs like "Acetone" — whose sound recalls a less rigidly streamlined Strokes — are too vibrant and highly caffeinated to bum anyone out.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Americana

Why We're Excited: Buck Meek is best known as the lead guitarist and cofounder of Big Thief, but he's also got a nice, low-key side gig going as a solo artist. On his own, he rambles and twangs through conversational, countrified, vividly detailed stories of wanderers, lost souls and dreamers.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Katie Von Schleicher runs her self-effacing bummer anthems through a filter of bright-eyed, '70s-style pop-rock. On albums like Bleaksploitation and last year's S***** Hits, Von Schleicher showcases a richly realized artistic persona: Her fuzzed-out songs look inward with a lacerating eye, while still deflecting enough blame to go around.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Melbourne, Australia

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Australian singer-songwriter Jess Ribeiro got her start playing country music, but on 2015's Kill It Yourself, she steered toward a sparer, more haunting sound. On that album's tremendous title track, Ribeiro crafts a solemn bit of timeless country-noir that would have been perfectly suited to those Bang Bang Bar spots on the latest iteration of Twin Peaks.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Franklin County, Virginia

Genre: Americana

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Indie Rock

Why We're Excited: Nassau's songs drift along with moody grace, propelled by clean, fluid guitar lines and an overarching vibe of calm contentment. But listen closely to "Whatever Brings You Peace of Mind," and you'll hear a note of melancholy and unrequited want — a bittersweet mix that haunts as it soothes. Fans of Noah and the Whale's The First Days of Spring, take note.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Gdańsk, Poland

Genre: Psychedelic Rock

Why We're Excited: Trupa Trupa frontman Grzegorz Kwiatkowski is a published poet, but in "To Me," he limits his lyrical output to precisely three words: "Away / To me." That leaves Trupa Trupa to pound out a hefty blast of warped and churning psych-rock thunder that culminates in a full-band freakout of hair-raising proportions.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaii

Genre: Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar

Hometown: Newtown, Connecticut

Genre: Indie Rock

Why We're Excited: Writing and playing strange, twisty, lo-fi rock under the name Stove, Ovlov's Steve Hartlett has spent the past few years churning out a loose assortment of shambling bedroom recordings. Like Sebadoh before it, Stove has a gift for letting disarming beauty slip through the tape hiss; for proof, try "dumb phone," a scuffed-up, sweetly strummed gem highlighted by lovely vocal harmonies.

SXSW Schedule:

Hometown: Silsbee, Texas

Genre: Indie Rock

Why We're Excited: In Lomelda, singer-songwriter Hannah Read reflects on isolation and distance, but there's nothing remote about her music. If anything, she seems compelled to pull listeners ever closer; to share sung secrets amid some of the most intoxicating liquid guitar lines you'll hear this year.

SXSW Schedule:

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