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.

Adam Schlesinger, one of the most prolific and decorated songwriters of his generation, died Wednesday from complications caused by COVID-19. He was 52.

His death was confirmed to NPR by his lawyer, Josh Grier.

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Conor Oberst has kept busy since the last Bright Eyes rec

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Indie Pop

Why We're Excited: Born in Colombia and based in L.A., singer-songwriter Andrea Silva records beautiful, bittersweet songs under the name Loyal Lobos. In "Criminals," a tribute to platonic friendship that frequently recalls Phoebe Bridgers, Silva proves enormously adept at dreamy, languid balladry. Even when crisp, gorgeous guitars dominate the mix, it's hard not to hang on her every word.

Hometown: Glasgow, Scotland

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: With its gritty riffs and fiery rhetoric — one new single is called "People Don't Protest Enough" — Catholic Action ought to sound deadly serious, even strident. But there's a sense of play to the Scottish band's sound: "One of Us" may churn and grind, but it's also tossing fistfuls of glitter into the mix. Throughout the forthcoming Celebrated by Strangers, aggression and joy coexist comfortably.

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Hip-Hop

Why We're Excited: L.A. singer-rapper Steven G finds more or less the exact midpoint between sleekly stylish R&B and slyly playful hip-hop, landing on a monster sex-jam earworm in "Handcuffs." An engaging presence with an easy smile and a few million streams to his name — seriously, the chorus to this thing can get stuck in your head for days — Steven G has all the commercial potential in the world.

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Genre: Folk-Pop

Why We're Excited: Singer-songwriter Nicole Rodriguez, who records under the name Pearla, finds subtle ways to put a twist on gently drifting, introverted, low-key folk-pop ballads. On her first EP, 2019's Quilting & Other Activities, Pearla gives her soft ruminations a sense of sonic adventure and psychedelic swirl, even as her lyrics look inward and stare down her demons.

Hometown: Copenhagen, Denmark

Genre: Indie Pop

Why We're Excited: Danish singer, songwriter, producer and musician Rasmus Littauer calls himself School of X as a tribute to the experimental 1960s Copenhagen art collective of the same name; he's even assembled a collective of his own in the same city. But Littauer's arty inspirations and aspirations don't drown out his pop sensibilities: "Write My Name" is a shimmering midtempo ballad that's universal in its yearning and regret.

Hometown: Bristol, England

Genre: Folk

Why We're Excited: Throughout 2018's On Hold, Fenne Lily's quaveringly intimate voice recalls the early works of Sharon Van Etten, particularly in the way she layers her own voice during choruses that ache and swoon. That almost jarringly beautiful effect jumps out in a minimalist mix that's so stripped down, you can often hear fingers sweeping across guitar strings.

Hometown: Edinburgh, Scotland

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Vistas' "Sucker" is essentially one great big charm offensive, from the wall of buoyant guitars to the "Hey! Hey!" in the choruses to the Scottish-accented lyrics about the way love can make you feel like a hopeless dope. Some bands deepen their impact with abstract examinations of the human psyche, but Vistas' sweet and shiny songs are just irresistible, high-wattage joy dispensers.

Hometown: Christchurch, New Zealand

Genre: Pop

Hometown: Cardiff, Wales

Genre: Indie Pop

Why We're Excited: Affection pours out of the Welsh indie-pop band The School — affection for classic '60s girl-group pop, sunny springtime harmonies and lyrics that yearn with maximum sweetness. (The School's only enemy: search engines.) In "I Will See You Soon," the band breezes in and out in just two minutes, never wasting a second in the process.

Hometown: Kyiv, Ukraine

Genre: Pop

Hometown: Lagos, Nigeria

Genre: Global

Why We're Excited: Rema is an Afropop superstar with tens of millions of streams, a distinctive sound mixing pop and trap, a Barack Obama endorsement and at least one prominent magazine cover to his name — and he still hasn't yet released his full-length debut album. At 19, he resides at or near the forefront of a Nigerian music scene that's exploded in global stature, and it's no wonder: "Lady" is a twisty and charming, unmistakably youthful, hook-laden banger.

Hometown: Dublin, Ireland

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: The four women in Pillow Queens write queer punk and pop songs with sharp, anxious edges — imagine a gnarlier Cranberries, maybe? — and endearingly thick Irish accents. They're especially good at showcasing their languid and emotive side, as songs like "Brothers" and "Gay Girls" extol the virtues of familial bonds and, well, gay girls, respectively.

Hometown: New York, New York

Genre: Punk

Why We're Excited: Patio's guitar-forward post-punk songs clatter with jagged, infectious verve. But in "Boy Scout," the band steps up its game even further, bundling up a gaggle of virtues — sweetly raggedy hooks, funny lines delivered as conversational asides, a distinct point of view, references to other bands — in a span of just 95 highly eventful seconds.

Hometown: Austin, Texas

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: At the helm of Why Bonnie, Blair Howerton writes glossy, synth- and string-inflected guitar-pop songs that fit a mighty, beating heart underneath all the gleaming hooks. Between 2018's Nightgown and the forthcoming Voice Box EP, Why Bonnie started cranking its guitars a bit, lending heft and fervency to a sound that had already sported a fair bit of Cranberries-esque intensity.

Hometown: Northampton, England

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: U.K. singer-songwriter Katie Malco has released a smattering of songs over the years — mostly barren piano-and-voice recordings steeped in vulnerable melancholy — but none like last year's bracing and infectious rock-and-roll blowout "Creatures." The track, from Malco's forthcoming full-length debut, taps briefly into the singer's softer side, but uses it primarily as a foil for a soaring string of marvelous, ever-grander choruses.

Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts

Genre: Rock

Why We're Excited: Horse Jumper of Love plays dirges — deliberately (even funereally) paced slow jams in which each strangled note feels as if it's been squeezed out with great effort. Led by singer-guitarist Dimitri Giannopoulos, the band's songs sound hypnotically beautiful in an off-kilter way, with arrangements that magnify small narrative details into big, booming moments of catharsis.

Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Genre: Indie Pop

Why We're Excited: Aymen Saleh makes sweetly jangling, goodnatured Britpop — appropriate for a guy who grew up in Canterbury, England. But he eventually found his way to an American town that won his heart (that'd be the great city of Milwaukee) and now uses his songwriting to reflect on the pull of both places and the pressures inherent in growing up. Dispensed with abundant charm and grace, his songs feel warm and lived-in.

Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina

Genre: Hip-Hop

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Genre: Electronic

Why We're Excited: Madame Gandhi doesn't exactly make her intentions a mystery: The hyphen-rich vocalist-percussionist-speaker-producer-activist's vibe isn't so much "singer-songwriter" as "icon of empowerment." Her frenetic odes to feminism, fluidity and freedom — carried off with the assistance of an entirely female or nonbinary band — mash together fragments of electro-pop, trap, Afrobeat and R&B, carried off with endless swagger.

Hometown: Toronto, Canada

Genre: Pop

Why We're Excited: A Colombian-born artist and electro-pop musician now based in Toronto, Lido Pimienta made the first Spanish-language recording (2016's La Papessa) ever to win Canada's prestigious Polaris Prize. In April, she returns with Miss Colombia, a new collection of splashy, spangly songs about tangled identity, queer love and the complicated relationship she's maintained with the country of her birth.

Hometown: Toronto, Canada

Genre: Hip-Hop

Hometown: Perth, Australia

Genre: Folk Pop

Why We're Excited: An Australian singer-songwriter with a gift for deadpan observation and deftly deployed guitar licks, Carla Geneve sneaks up on you: Her songs can feel like overheard conversations, but also she's got a keen instinct for just when and how to crank up the dramatic tension. She's only just released her debut EP, and Geneve has already locked down a pitch-perfect mix of booming peaks and seething near-silences.

Hometown: Vienna, Austria

Genre: Electronic

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