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.

If you haven't heard "Namesake," one of the many wildly joyous highlights of Tunde Olaniran's 2015 debut Transgressor, take a few minutes to listen before proceeding with... well, anything in your life. A boundlessly inventive ode to individuality, it sounds, appropriately enough, like nothing else.

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.

Recording under the name Silver Torches, Seattle singer-songwriter Erik Walters specializes in smart and melancholy Americana — the sort of stuff that ought to be catnip to fans of, say, Ryan Adams or late-period Paul Westerberg.

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.

Like many singer-songwriters, Jason Isbell writes music that mirrors developments in his own life. In recent years, that's thankfully included the hard-won contentment he's experienced on his path to 40: sobriety, marriage and on from there.

MTV is the TV network most widely associated with short attention spans. So it makes sense that its Video Music Awards would function as a jarring and disjointed jumble of moments — a howl of protest followed immediately by a singer's tears of joy, or a heartfelt speech by a grieving mother giving way to a performance of "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy" by Rod Stewart and DNCE. In such a barrage, it's unfair to expect any one performance, speech or spectacle to rise above the others, especially as the telecast stretched past three hours.

In the 15-plus years since Sam Beam released his debut album as Iron & Wine, the singer-songwriter has added layer upon layer to his soft-spoken sound.

Let's get one issue out of the way up front: MTV is never again going to build its programming around music videos. For that, viewers have YouTube — as well as MTV's lower-stakes spinoff channels — and besides, if you're old enough to remember when MTV's programming revolved around videos, then you're almost certainly too old for MTV to care what you think.

It's only rolled out a few songs so far, but the Brooklyn band Frances Cone has already carved out a distinct sound — a sweet slow burn in which songs build gradually and carefully into something truly grand. The gorgeous "Unraveling," from a forthcoming album called Late Riser, really gets at what works about Frances Cone's music: Each cooed "ooooh" is in the exact right place, weaving together to form a warm and hypnotic tapestry.

The moment you get a look at ALA.NI behind the Tiny Desk, you'll notice it in the foreground: The singer asked us to record her set using her vintage RCA Ribbon microphone, which she carries around in a small briefcase between shows. It's a security blanket, a bit of visual branding, a statement of stylistic intent — and, not for nothing, a big reason ALA.NI's voice carries with such warmth and intimacy.

We thought this episode was going to be all about The Dark Tower, a new movie adaptation of Stephen King's ambitious series of novels. Then... we saw The Dark Tower, which attempts, at least in part, to condense 4,000-plus pages into a 95-minute movie. We didn't like it — and, more to the point, we didn't think it was interesting enough to warrant a whole segment of Pop Culture Happy Hour.

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.

With host Linda Holmes still in Los Angeles, where she's attending the Televisions Critics Association press tour, Glen Weldon and I have assembled without her for a discussion of director Kathryn Bigelow's new film, Detroit. We're joined by our pals Gene Demby (from NPR's Code Switch) and Aisha Harris (who hosts Slate's Represent podcast).

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.

Maggie Rogers became a viral star on the strength of a video in which Pharrell Williams raves about a demo of what's become her signature song, "Alaska." Since then, Rogers has signed a label deal, toured extensively and released a sweetly approachable, inventively arranged EP called Now That The Light Is Fading.

Last month, Mutual Benefit released an album-length cover of Vashti Bunyan's 1970 classic Just Another Diamond Day — an act of tribute initiated as part of an ambitious series by the website Turntable Kitchen.

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.

Rhye hasn't released an album since its seductive and stellar 2013 debut Woman, but its new single doesn't delay the gratification any further. In fact, it takes all of 10 seconds for Mike Milosh to elicit his first new swoon in "Please," as a gentle stomp-and-clap gives way to the skeletal beginnings of a piano hook, which suddenly disappears from the mix before popping dramatically back into place after a second or two.

For about a minute, "You're Like Me" sounds as if it's being played in the next room — you could be hearing it through a wall, or maybe your headphones aren't plugged all the way in. Then, it comes roaring into focus: still compact and compressed, still just a guy playing most of the instruments in his bedroom, but just as thunderous as the wiry rock 'n' roll on which Ted Leo first made his name.

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