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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.

In 1985, a team of country-music legends formed The Highwaymen, a supergroup combining the talents of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson.

Last month, Bon Iver released a pair of new songs — "Hey Ma" and "U (Man Like)" — with little context to surround them.

Radiohead's Thom Yorke released his third official solo album, ANIMA, early Thursday morning, along with a short companion film featuring three tracks from the album.

These days, a six-year gap between albums practically qualifies as a hiatus. In the case of Vampire Weekend, it's been enough time to experience a 2014 Grammy win, a significant departure (Rostam Batmanglij left in 2016), a major-label deal, years of touring and a long, deliberately paced lead-up to Father of the Bride, out May 3.

Welcome to a brand-new season of New Music Friday! After a few quiet weeks, the flood gates are opening and we've got a whole bunch of essential albums dropping on Jan. 18 to tell you about. This includes the smart, sparkling pop of singer Maggie Rogers, swooning love songs from James Blake, deep introspection from Pedro The Lion's first new album in 15 years, pure joy from Toro y Moi and much more. Host Robin Hilton is joined by NPR Music's Stephen Thompson for this quick sprint through the essential releases for Jan. 18, the first busy drop date for the new year.

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 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.

For Saintseneca, fatalistic gloom blends seamlessly with a kind of playful sprightliness: Zac Little's songs often simmer in a sad swirl of death and esoterica, but his deadpan ruminations are buoyed by the sounds of exotic instruments, candy-colored pop hooks and many points in between.

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.

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.

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.

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")

We've been recording Tiny Desk concerts for nearly a decade, and in that time, a few artists have come back for encores — folks like Wilco, Chris Thile and the inspiration for the series, Laura Gibson. One band, The Oh Hellos, came back after a year to favor us with a holiday set. But we've never, until now, asked anyone to return later the same day.

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.

November means different weather to different places, so it's presumptuous to assume that everyone is looking forward to an evening spent bundled up in front of the fireplace with a pile of fleece blankets and a cup of hot cocoa. But if you want to simulate the spirit of a cozy November night, you could do far worse than "Winter," the tenderly rendered new single from Irish singer-songwriter Rosie Carney.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF PRINCE SONG, "KISS")

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In honor of MTV's 35th birthday Monday, the network has launched MTV Classic, a new channel featuring programming from the '90s and '00s. On the same day, we also wish a happy birthday to NPR Music and Pop Culture Happy Hour's Stephen Thompson, who celebrates with an interview on All Things Considered about how MTV Classic is redefining which popular culture fits into the current environment for nostalgia.

Sometime tomorrow, Linda Holmes and I will break down Monday night's Grammys telecast in a Small Batch edition of Pop Culture Happy Hour. And, for a variety of reasons, we're not likely to spend much time on the awards themselves.

Pop Culture Happy Hour entered this week juggling a couple of problems. For one, a gigantic blizzard had just dumped roughly two feet of snow on the D.C. area, making transportation virtually impossible and, it turns out, stranding Glen Weldon in a Virginia cabin for much of the week. Getting the gang together would be no easy task.

A few months ago, Code Switch lead blogger Gene Demby turned to Twitter in an attempt to crowd-source a solution to a problem he'd been having. Gene had begun watching Premier League soccer but couldn't settle on a rooting interest, so he asked the league's fans to convince him to root for one team or another.

A couple weeks ago, Code Switch blogger Gene Demby and I sat down to reflect on a decade-old sports moment — a single play in a single game — and describe how it affected us as rival fans of the teams involved. In this second episode of the series we're calling The Giant Foam Finger, the two of us tackle a far unwieldier subject: hatred.

We talk a lot about nostalgia on Pop Culture Happy Hour — about the ways entertainment has shaped our youth and placed our memories in perspective — but in doing so, we've mostly discussed movies, TV shows, music, books, board games, that sort of thing.

Damien Rice's creative ambition has always outstripped his personal ambition: The Irish singer-songwriter's 2002 debut O yielded many lavish orchestral flourishes, and even a foray into opera near the end, but Rice himself always seemed a reluctant star. After 2006's 9, he quietly retreated from the public eye and relocated to Iceland, barely popping up publicly since, so the arrival of these eight new songs comes as a welcome and periodically thrilling surprise.

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