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.

For Tunde Olaniran, art is about big ambitions, bigger ideas and the relentless pursuit of joy and comfort within his own skin. The Flint, Mich., native's bold and wildly dynamic 2015 debut Transgressor announced him as a playful multi-hyphenate provocateur who sings, raps, writes and choreographs from a vast well of creativity.

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.

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.

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.

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: San Diego, California

Genre: Electro-Pop

Why We're Excited: Jackie Mendoza sings in the sunny, dreamy pop band Gingerlys, but her solo work indulges different sides of her persona. As heard in the iridescent "Islands," her own radiant bilingual pop pulsates playfully, conjuring images of sandy beaches and hot pavement.

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Hometown: Austin, Texas

Genre: R&B

Why We're Excited: The daughter of Ethiopian immigrants, Mélat Kassa grew up on her parents' lovingly curated mixture of African pop and American R&B. It shows in her own sleekly rendered soul sound, which fits right in with the likes of SZA while still making room for a song sung in Amharic. "Push" (produced by Janspot J) radiates lovestruck desire in a busy mix that exudes confidence and style.

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Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Genre: Americana

Why We're Excited: Collapsing Stars' languid folk songs are punctuated by forceful stabs of bluesy guitar — and, in the case of "The Storm," a few appropriate nature sounds. The effect can be whispery and beautiful, but the band's music maintains a welcome undercurrent of reflection, doubt and even dread.

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Hometown: Barcelona, Spain

Genre: Dancehall / Reggaeton

Why We're Excited: Alba Farelo sings in Catalan, Spanish and English, filtering each through the universal language of AutoTune. Her sleek, playful pop incorporates strong strains of reggaeton, dancehall and other sounds of the Caribbean. (On "Jacaranda," those sounds are courtesy of producer Dubbel Dutch.) In other words, everything she does sounds like a mash-up, unconstrained by genre or borders.

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Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Pop

Why We're Excited: It's hard to describe The Marías without using the adjective "smooth" in every sentence. That's the farthest thing from a put-down: Led by singer Maria Zardoya, the band employs maximal slinkiness in the service of jazzy, gauzy, utterly charming, slyly funky pop.

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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: 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: Birmingham, Alabama

Genre: R&B

Why We're Excited: Recording under the name Love Moor, Erica Andrew makes assured and ingratiating R&B that doesn't hit a nerve so much as slide under the skin when no one's looking. Producer Suaze gives Andrew's intimate vocals a smoothed-out, ethereal quality, as their shared songs often breeze in and out in two minutes or less — just enough time for them to set a mood, plant a thought and disappear.

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Hometown: Melbourne, Australia

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Australian singer-songwriter Jess Ribeiro got her start playing country music, but on 2015's Kill It Yourself, she steered toward a sparer, more haunting sound. On that album's tremendous title track, Ribeiro crafts a solemn bit of timeless country-noir that would have been perfectly suited to those Bang Bang Bar spots on the latest iteration of Twin Peaks.

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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: Chicago, Illinois

Genre: Pop / Hip-Hop

Why We're Excited: Producer and singer Knox Fortune got the spotlight of a lifetime when Chance the Rapper featured him in "All Night" a couple years back. Now, Knox Fortune — real name: Kevin Rhomberg — has earned himself a much larger platform for his own woozy, intricately layered summertime soul.

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Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Indie Rock

Why We're Excited: Nassau's songs drift along with moody grace, propelled by clean, fluid guitar lines and an overarching vibe of calm contentment. But listen closely to "Whatever Brings You Peace of Mind," and you'll hear a note of melancholy and unrequited want — a bittersweet mix that haunts as it soothes. Fans of Noah and the Whale's The First Days of Spring, take note.

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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: Bloomington, Indiana

Genre: Soul

Why We're Excited: In recent years, we've lost several modern-day standard-bearers of vintage soul, including Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley. So it's a heartwarming treat to hear the torch passed to a new generation of spirited future stars like Durand Jones, a Bayou-bred belter whose recent debut rings that much truer for its $452.11 budget.

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Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaii

Genre: Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar

Hometown: New York, New York

Genre: Rock

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Neo-soul

Why We're Excited: Adrian Daniel's modern R&B slithers and shape-shifts alluringly, propelled by a commanding falsetto that's practically engineered to make knees quiver. In "This City," Daniel performs with the commitment of a veteran balladeer, but his sonic surroundings situate him firmly in the present day.

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Hometown: Silsbee, Texas

Genre: Indie Rock

Why We're Excited: In Lomelda, singer-songwriter Hannah Read reflects on isolation and distance, but there's nothing remote about her music. If anything, she seems compelled to pull listeners ever closer; to share sung secrets amid some of the most intoxicating liquid guitar lines you'll hear this year.

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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: 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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