NPR: 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, 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.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At NPR Music, they're wrapping up the year the best way they know how, with their hotly contested list of their 50 favorite albums of 2013. Now, all this week, we'll get a peak of that list from our in-house experts, including NPR Music writer and editor Stephen Thompson, whose beat is the ever amorphous indie pop, which - Stephen, what exactly is that these days?

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: I have absolutely no idea. It used to mean accessible but unpopular.

CORNISH: OK. So...

(LAUGHTER)

Listen to Stephen Thompson's conversation with Audie Cornish on All Things Considered by clicking the audio link.


The South by Southwest music festival kicked off Tuesday with the first of five straight nights of music overload: The clubs, makeshift music venues and front porches of Austin, Texas, were overrun with little-known discoveries-in-waiting and big names alike, as well as tens of thousands of fans who have flocked to the city in search of epiphanies.

With the conclusion of Sunday night's ceremony, Linda Holmes and I have now live-blogged fully one-eleventh of the Grammy Awards' 55 annual incarnations. Below is our original post and an archived live blog of the telecast:

This Sunday will mark the 16th annual installment of "Chicken Bowl," my Super Bowl party, which doubles as a grand fried-chicken-eating contest. As many as 80 friends, coworkers, enablers and hangers-on will cram into my long-suffering house for this noble occasion.

But even with all the extravagances I've cobbled together to keep them happy — large TVs, vintage arcade machines, working toilets — there has never been a shred of doubt that chicken is king.

Noah and the Whale has inspired a devoted following ever since its first album landed in the British Top 10 in 2008. But success hasn't come easily for the group: Key members have left, prompting striking changes in Noah and the Whale's sound. In a span of just three years, it's released three very different albums.

"You need to be sort of brave, I guess, when you make a record," says Charlie Fink, the band's singer, guitarist and co-founder.

"I was sort of always under the impression that these things were done while everybody was just trying to work," The Decemberists' Colin Meloy says a little ways into this Tiny Desk Concert in the NPR Music offices. "I kind of like the romance of that."

The cover of Rave On Buddy Holly is wisely splashed with huge names, from Paul McCartney and Lou Reed to The Black Keys, Fiona Apple, Cee Lo Green and Modest Mouse.

"Beth/Rest," the closing song on Bon Iver, is an absolutely diabolical bit of provocation.

The Black Angels' music is hardly the stuff of stripped-down acoustic confessionals: It's the sound of a distant rumble, possibly beamed from a garage in the early '70s. So when we got word that the Austin-based psych-rock band would go acoustic for this Tiny Desk Concert in the NPR Music offices, a mystery was born: namely, "Huh?"

A few times a year, various representatives of NPR Music head off to music festivals, sometimes to webcast or broadcast the events and sometimes to scout for tomorrow's obsessions. The loftiest goal we set for our scouting jaunts — whether at South by Southwest in March or at CMJ in New York each fall — is to come home smitten with a new band or singer we'd never heard of a week earlier.

Language Advisory: This is a live concert recording, and may not contain language suitable for all audiences.

Language Advisory: This is a live concert recording, and may not contain language suitable for all audiences.

Language Advisory: This is a live concert recording, and may not contain language suitable for all audiences.

Language Advisory: This is a live concert recording, and may not contain language suitable for all audiences.

A young pop-rock group on the cusp of a promising journey beyond its Pacific Northwest home, The Globes just released a moody but spirited full-length debut called Future Self. Formed in Spokane while its members were still teenagers, the group moved to Seattle just a few years ago and hooked up with the Barsuk label, whose tradition of sweet, smart, propulsive pop music houses The Globes' sound comfortably.

Language Advisory: This is a live concert recording, and may not contain language suitable for all audiences.

Wilco never makes the same record twice, which makes it doubly remarkable that so many of them are tremendous. As formidable as frontman Jeff Tweedy's catalog is, the sonically inventive rock band really stands out on stage — the place where extreme technical skill meets the chemistry and rousing showmanship of passionate rock veterans. Of course, it helps that the group has the luxury of drawing highlights from seven very different records when it performs.

The Decemberists must have brainstormed many ways to follow the massively ambitious, best-selling 2008 "folk opera" The Hazards of Love: After all, not every Decemberists album can feature a large supporting cast, interlocking narratives and a generous body count. The hyper-literate Portland, Ore., band made a canny move in simplifying its attack on this year's The King Is Dead, which focuses on Colin Meloy's gift for bright, infectious roots-folk songwriting.

Language Advisory: This is a live concert recording, and may not contain language suitable for all audiences.

Language Advisory: This is a live concert recording, and may not contain language suitable for all audiences.

Language Advisory: This is a live concert recording, and may not contain language suitable for all audiences.

Language Advisory: This is a live concert recording, and may not contain language suitable for all audiences.

Language Advisory: This is a live concert recording, and may not contain language suitable for all audiences.

A genre-hating musician with roots everywhere from Toronto to Trinidad, k-os lets his music sprawl across the disparate worlds of hip-hop, reggae, electronic music, indie rock, soul and so on. As such, it's tough to place him within any given scene — which is no doubt what he had in mind — but k-os' socially conscious songwriting and charisma have helped him win a crop of loyal fans anyway. His newest album is 2009's Yes!

Language Advisory: This is a live concert recording, and may not contain language suitable for all audiences.

Language Advisory: This is a live concert recording, and may not contain language suitable for all audiences.

One of the breakout bands of 2010, the L.A.-based quintet Local Natives plays briskly infectious, harmony-rich folk-pop music that benefits greatly from its propulsive, Afrobeat-inspired rhythms. But Local Natives' songs aren't just pretty empty vessels: Its young members have a knack for lyrics that exude genuine thoughtfulness.

Death Cab for Cutie's music has long had a certain innocence to it; a boyish, vulnerable charm that feels unmistakably collegiate. When the Bellingham, Wash., band broke big in the early '00s, its records played like the soundtracks to breathless long-distance romances between young adults who'd always been just a little too smart for the rooms they were in.

My Morning Jacket has been tricky to peg lately, especially after the 2008 release of Evil Urges, which saw the band's cavernous rock sound sprawl out to include absurd forays into loopy funk. At its best, Evil Urges is a monster, but it's not exactly consistent.

It's been fascinating to watch the evolution of the Duluth, Minn., band Low in the 17 years since the release of its wonderful debut album, I Could Live in Hope. Renowned for being one of the slowest and quietest acts in indie-rock, Low has nevertheless found ways to experiment with new ways to sound alternately (and even simultaneously) swoony and unnerving.

[Note: Christian radio host Harold Camping (and others) say the Rapture — in which God separates the wicked from the good — will take place this Saturday, with the end of the world to soon follow.]

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