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 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.

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.

If you're a Spotify user, you can listen to most of this year's Austin 100 in our Spotify playlist. For a complete list of the musicians in our mixtape, visit npr.org/austin100.

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Folk / Funk / R&B

Why We're Excited: When singer and violinist Sudan Archives discovered the way the violin is played in Northeast Africa, she overhauled her sound to accommodate it. Now, her slippery pop and soul music incorporates sharp and hypnotic violin lines like the ones that animate the irrepressibly clattering "Come Meh Way."

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Hometown: San Fernando, Trinidad and Tobago

Genre: Soca

Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana

Genre: Funk, R&B, Bounce Music

Why We're Excited: Winners of the third annual Tiny Desk Contest last spring, Tank and the Bangas' many members have spent the past year winning over the rest of the world. The band's brassily kinetic, genre-smashing energy absolutely must be witnessed live, but "Quick" shows that it's possible to contain Tank and the Bangas' immense allure on a recording, too.

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Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Chamber Pop

Why We're Excited: Gracie Coates sings ominously but brightens the proceedings with soft, buoyant piano parts; Rachel Ruggles, for her part, plays swooping, hypnotic lines on the violin. It's a particular sound — at once sunny and dark, sad and sweet, gentle and intense. In "Only a Child," Gracie and Rachel place lives of anxiety and conflict in simple, refreshing context.

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Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona

Genre: Metal

Why We're Excited: Nate Garrett launched Spirit Adrift as a doom-metal solo project during some major transitions in his life, including sobriety and a cross-country move. Now that he's surrounded himself with a full band, Garrett spends his second album (Curse of Conception) drawing some of his inspiration — not to mention raw, thundering power — from more traditional metal bands like Metallica and Judas Priest.

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Hometown: London, England

Genre: Jazz

Why We're Excited: Ezra Collective keeps one foot planted in traditional jazz but lets the other wander far and wide, bringing back rhythmic traces of hip-hop and Afrobeat. On the new Juan Pablo: The Philosopher EP, Ezra Collective sounds alternately taut and spacey in tunes that don't stay in one place long, let alone recede into the background.

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Hometown: Seattle, Washington

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: "Syml" is the Welsh word for "simple," which should provide a sense of the aesthetic at work in SYML's "Where's My Love." Brian Fennell writes straightforwardly heartwarming, sweetly engaging folk-pop songs, softening each with a voice that embodies comfort and kindness.

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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.

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Hometown: Manchester, England

Genre: Dream Pop

Why We're Excited: Songwriters Heather Baron-Gracie and Ciara Doran love to mix elements of '80s pop into their dreamy, sparkling sound, but Pale Waves' songs feel remarkably fresh — in part because great hooks are great hooks, regardless of the era that inspired them. "Heavenly" is as gorgeous as it is infectious, which is saying something.

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Hometown: Seattle, Washington

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Thunderpussy's chugging, blustery, feel-good stomp would really liven up the playlist at your old classic-rock station — that is, if its music had been made many years ago, by a band that wasn't called "Thunderpussy." As it is, it's an enormously appealing, sweat-flinging throwback that still finds a way to sound fresh.

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Hometown: Melbourne, Australia

Genre: Synth Pop

Why We're Excited: Georgia Flipo, who records under the name G Flip and has spent time as a drummer and backup singer with other acts, has yet to amass much of a solo discography — in fact, she's got exactly one single to her credit. Fortunately, that one single is "About You," a spry and springy hookfest that burrows into your subconscious in a matter of seconds.

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Hometown: New York, New York

Genre: Rock

Hometown: London, England

Genre: Punk

Why We're Excited: Shopping's first two albums find the lithely rhythmic, oddly minimalistic punk band weighing in on consumerism and discrimination, and on The Official Body, its first album to follow in the wake of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, the group takes a turn further into outright defiance. But as "The Hype" demonstrates, anarchic anti-authoritarianism needn't fully replace the good-natured throb of a band at play.

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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.

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Hometown: Houston, Texas

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Many Rooms' still, sad music is so quiet, it can feel almost invisible — like a fine mist that accumulates on your skin without you noticing. Brianna Hunt sings at a whisper, surrounding herself with the sparest of sounds, but there's still immense weight to her compositions: These are songs of faith, doubt and depression, made for those rare moments when every other stimulus in the world can be pushed aside.

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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.

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Hometown: Montreal, Canada (born/raised in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo)

Genre: Funk / Pop

Why We're Excited: Congolese Canadian Pierre Kwenders sings in five languages — and incorporates at least that many genres into his sultry, swaying, busy, funky pop music. Named for a Henry Miller trilogy, "Sexus Plexus Nexus" brings sex talk and saxophones together, where they've always belonged.

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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.

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Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaii

Genre: Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar

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.

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Hometown: Düsseldorf, Germany

Genre: Dance

Why We're Excited: Gato Preto's sound is insistent to the point of relentlessness: The globetrotting band piles on layer upon layer of percussion — traditional and electronic — while brandishing earworms like bazookas. Between the feast of rhythm and the wild Afro-futuristic garb, Gato Preto doesn't just put on a show; it makes a scene.

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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.

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