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.

It's common practice for musicians to sing the struggles of everyday people: underdogs and strivers who work for the weekend, love and protect their families, and struggle to stay one step ahead of the boss and the bill collector. But everyday people aren't monolithic, and some stories are told far more often than others.

The first time I saw Haley Bonar in concert, she and her band were performing at the base of a 54-foot Doritos vending machine — a dehumanizing corporate venue of the variety that occasionally surfaces at SXSW. Somehow, though, her wry, spiky spark found a way to shine through.

Amanda Sudano and Abner Ramirez met as a songwriting team in Nashville, only to move to L.A., get married and have a baby. Those may scan as simple biographical details, but every one of them is reflected in the music the two make together under the name Johnnyswim. Their sparkly pop songs exude L.A.

With both Mazzy Star and her band The Warm Inventions, singer Hope Sandoval has helped perfect an impeccably shimmering sound that's ideally suited to her gorgeous, approachable voice.

Ever since his early teens, songwriting has come fairly quickly to Conor Oberst. Whether as a solo artist, with Bright Eyes, in Desaparecidos, or in the supergroup Monsters Of Folk, he's stayed steadily prolific while performing with nervy intensity at every stop on his winding and unpredictable career path.

Dirty Projectors' early career opened a virtual fire hydrant of ideas: albums overstuffed with sound and chaos, reined in by real artistry, released in rapid succession. But as bandleader David Longstreth honed his vision, the hydrant's flow has given way to a trickle. It's been more than four years since the last new Dirty Projectors album, Swing Lo Magellan, and Longstreth himself has stayed largely out of the public eye.

Sometimes album titles really do say it all: A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings, the second full-length album by the Philly rock band Beach Slang, pulls off exactly what it promises.

"I use the same voice I always have," Hamilton Leithauser sings in the chorus of "Sick As A Dog," and he's got a point: The former Walkmen frontman is instantly identifiable, whether he's singing with his old band, working as a solo artist or, in this case, recording with Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij under the name Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam.

There's not resting on your laurels, and then there's trying on new creative identities as soon as the old ones have begun to pay dividends. Jenn Wasner, best known as the singer and lead guitarist for Wye Oak, could have simply coasted through a long and fruitful career as one of rock's most gripping bandleaders, a shredder whose slurred and alluring vocals articulate a world of worry and self-discovery.

From breakups to moves to midlife crises, major change has done wonders for the creative process.