Stephen Thompson

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him 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. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)

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 NPR programs such as Weekend Edition, 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 girlfriend, his daughter, their three cats and a room full of vintage arcade machines. (He also has a large adult son who has headed off to college but still calls once in a while.) Thompson's 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 (who returned the favor by making a 22-minute documentary about his life) and maintaining a fierce rivalry with all Midwestern states other than Wisconsin.

Each year, the buzz in Austin, Texas, at the South By Southwest music festival can reach a deafening pitch. Our NPR Music team is here to help you cut through the noise. Every evening, we'll gather to roundup and recap the best discoveries of the day.

SXSW Music Preview

Mar 10, 2019

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hometown: Nairobi, Kenya / Minneapolis, Minnesota

Genre: Folk

Hometown: Cincinatti, Ohio

Genre: Rock

Hometown: Bergen, Norway

Genre: Pop

Why We're Excited: Ida Knoph-Solholm and Alexander Breidvik make music for 4 a.m. drives and headphones worn surreptitiously under blankets. But really, there's no bad setting for music this spare, haunting and gorgeous. The central ingredients in "Far From Home" couldn't be simpler: Knopf-Solholm sets her huge, radiant voice against crystalline guitar lines that hang heavy in the air. Though other instruments make their way into the mix, there's not a superfluous sound to be found.

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Sometimes a rock band exudes such swirly, Goth-tinged intensity, you'd swear you can actually hear the smoke machines and foreboding lighting. Partway through "Slenderman," Russian Baths' Jess Rees and Luke Koz pivot from mysterious and ethereal scene-setting to a bit of cataclysmic shredding that must lead to no end of strobe-lit sweat-flinging onstage.

Hometown: Porto Novo, Benin / New York, New York

Genre: Global

Why We're Excited: Benin-born Afropop singer Shirazee has written songs for everyone from Ty Dolla $ign to Sting, and his own recordings throb and shimmy with winning fervor. After moving halfway around the world and overcoming homelessness, he's got plenty of hard-won perspective to work with. But in "Make Wild," Shirazee focuses on something far simpler: dispensing pure, unabashed, infectious joy.

Hometown: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Genre: Americana

Hometown: Valencia, Spain

Genre: Global

Hometown: Limerick, Ireland

Genre: Rock

Hometown: Tokyo, Japan

Genre: Electronic

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Your Smith is the invention — reinvention, really — of the former Caroline Smith, a singer-songwriter who changed her name and recast herself as a more freewheeling, laid-back, risk-taking version of the performer she once was. The new identity gives her music a fresh sense of play, as evidenced by "The Spot," a breezy jam that morphs from Sheryl Crow-style summer pop to a kinetic chorus with agreeable echoes of Luscious Jackson.

Hometown: Stockholm, Sweden

Genre: Pop

Hometown: New York, New York

Genre: R&B

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Rock

Hometown: Oakland, California

Genre: Rock

Hometown: Berlin, Germany

Genre: Electronic

Hometown: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Genre: Folk

Why We're Excited: Elisapie is a singer, songwriter, filmmaker and indigenous Canadian activist whose songs rotate among the English, French and Inuktitut languages. On her fourth album, The Ballad of the Runaway Girl, she synthesizes stories from her eventful life with hypnotic arrangements that channel '70s rock, indigenous folk music and the low, moody rumble of barnstormers like Tom Waits and Morphine.

Hometown: Dundalk, Ireland

Genre: Folk

Hometown: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Ariel Engle is a recent addition to the Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene, filling a role once held by Leslie Feist. Listen to her work as La Force, and you'll hear one clear reason the band thought of her to fill the bill: She's got that same smoky, haunting vibe, landing somewhere between detachment and almost discomfiting intimacy. To delve into "Lucky One" is to hang on her every lushly appointed, impeccably controlled word.

Hometown: Salvador, Brazil

Genre: Global

Hometown: Ashaiman, Ghana

Genre: Global

Why We're Excited: Dancehall and reggae star Stonebwoy has broken out well beyond his home country of Ghana: He's collaborated with the likes of Sean Paul, won a BET Award (for Best International Act: Africa) and found a worldwide following for a string of springy, Afropop-inflected crossover hits. Among his most recent singles, the relentlessly catchy "Top Skanka" sounds poised to cross over to U.S. audiences whose pop-music world keeps getting more expansive.

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Rock

Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Genre: Hip-Hop

Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin

Genre: Rock

Hometown: Dublin, Ireland

Genre: Rock

Hometown: New Taipei City, Taiwan

Genre: Avant-Garde

Hometown: San José, Costa Rica

Genre: Global

The annual South by Southwest music festival is our personal endurance challenge to discover as many great unknown and often unsigned bands as possible in just one week. To train for the event, Bob Boilen, Stephen Thompson and I listen to more than a thousand songs by bands playing the festival, from all over the world, and try to map out a calendar to see our favorites.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify and Apple Music playlists at the bottom of the page.


Editor's note: The album cover art on this page contains nudity.

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