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.

A studio wizard still in his early 20s, Youth Lagoon's Trevor Powers makes music that documents the spiraling uncertainty of a worried mind. It must have been tough to translate to the live stage, where the comfort and cover of the studio are stripped away and every fussy swirl has to be thoughtfully re-created or excised entirely.

If Katie Crutchfield ever becomes a solo star, it's hard to imagine how the Waxahatchee singer's most bruised and beautiful songs will translate to a gigantic stage. Tucked into a back room at Stubb's during SXSW on March 13 — and following in the immediate aftermath of Nick Cave's swaggering turn under the stars — Crutchfield opened her 25-minute set with a string of fragile solo songs, each more delicate than the last. This was interior music, made of guts and nerves and other viscera we don't share easily.

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.

Somewhere along the way, Dave Grohl has become the unofficial Mayor of Rock 'n' Roll: a gregarious ambassador who wins armloads of Grammys and even directs a documentary — Sound City: Real to Reel — about the artistry, technology and magic that goes into making a great studio recording. So it makes sense that Grohl would address the assembled music fans at the SXSW music conference for the year's keynote speech.

Audio for The Austin 100 is no longer available.

It says a lot about SXSW's size and scope that this "sampler" of the annual music festival spans six and a half hours, but here we are: 100 songs by 100 artists worth discovering at this year's big event.

[This story originally ran on Feb. 22, 2013, but still applies today.]

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and amid the Valentine's Day cards that got returned with no forwarding address is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, how music fans could and should approach SXSW, the gigantic music festival held every March in Austin, Texas.

Every year around this time, all four members of the All Songs Considered roundtable gang (Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, Ann Powers and me) each dredge through more than 1,000 MP3s by bands playing the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. We base our coverage and festival schedules on the music we've researched in advance — and have found some of our favorite artists, like Kishi Bashi in 2012, as part of these blind pre-fest taste tests — and this year, we want to be sure we're considering yours.

To stand out as an acoustic-guitar-wielding folk-rock singer-songwriter, you'd better have an awful lot of charisma at your disposal — and it helps if, like Josh Ritter, you're able to infuse your songs with a sense that stakes are high and words ring true. A prolific singer-songwriter who's appropriately delved into a side career as a novelist, Ritter crafts his words carefully, but never loses sight of what makes them relate to the experiences of those who hear him.

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