Stephen Thompson

The Newport Folk Festival has been around for more than half a century now — this is its 55th year, to be exact — and the event now routinely sells out months before its lineup is even announced. And why shouldn't it?

Every year around this time, the All Songs Considered team begins the process of listening to nearly 2,000 MP3s by bands playing the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas. We acquire them from any number of sources, as bands willing to circulate their songs for consideration make them available online. But every year, we wind up missing something. In pursuit of music by thousands of bands, hundreds slip past our radar altogether.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

At NPR Music, they're wrapping up the year the best way they know how, with their hotly contested list of their 50 favorite albums of 2013. Now, all this week, we'll get a peak of that list from our in-house experts, including NPR Music writer and editor Stephen Thompson, whose beat is the ever amorphous indie pop, which - Stephen, what exactly is that these days?

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: I have absolutely no idea. It used to mean accessible but unpopular.

CORNISH: OK. So...

(LAUGHTER)

Courtesy of the artist

It hasn't been 11 full months since the Avett Brothers relaeased The Carpenter, the North Carolina band's most recent collection of bluegrass-inflected folk-rock. Given the length touring cycle that each major release generally spawns, fans had no reason to expect new music this year. 

Blues music is supposed to be cathartic — a way to process and package pain in ways that make it palatable; to take our hurt and ache, set it outside ourselves, give it a tune and rhythm that makes it tangible and real yet somehow less terrifying.

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.

Back in March, former All Songs intern Dan Raby used this space to sing the praises of Montreal singer-songwriter JBM, a.k.a. Jesse B. Marchant, whose deliberately paced folk-pop hangs on the lingering empty spaces between notes.

There's more than one way to qualify as a "guitar band": You can shred, sure, or you can lay down layer upon layer of guitars to weave an intricate tapestry. For Diiv — yes, the group was once called "Dive," and yes, it's from Brooklyn — guitars dominate, but as warm, chiming mood-setters.

Glen Hansard dropped out of school at 13 to busk on the streets of Dublin full-time, and he's spent the nearly three decades since performing in many configurations: at the head of the rock band The Frames, on stage at the Oscars with Marketa Irglova (they won in 2008 for "Falling Slowly," from Once), at innumerable concert halls and opera houses in

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It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that every piece of music needs to be important; that it must impart something meaningful, reinvent, redefine or otherwise aspire to greatness. Next to the groundbreaking, the merely happy-making can seem too minor to merit discussion, let alone celebration. But the ability to convey the soothing breeziness of a warm summer evening is no trifling matter for those craving comfort and escape.

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The reliable backup singer who seizes the spotlight is the stuff of entertainment-industry fairy tales, but Kelly Hogan hasn't actually had to labor in obscurity.

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Patrick Watson has a lovely, flexible voice and a gift for wringing evocative sounds out of everything from vintage keyboards to bicycle chains, but his real gift lies in his ability to maximize beauty at all times; to guide every noise in such a way that it coheres into something dramatic and graceful. When the Polaris Prize winner performs, he seems almost hypnotized by the sounds around him, yet every second and every unlikely component seems plotted to maximize its impact.

We call her the Typhoid Mary of the Tiny Desk.

We call her the Typhoid Mary of the Tiny Desk.

This Sunday will mark the 16th annual installment of "Chicken Bowl," my Super Bowl party, which doubles as a grand fried-chicken-eating contest. As many as 80 friends, coworkers, enablers and hangers-on will cram into my long-suffering house for this noble occasion.

But even with all the extravagances I've cobbled together to keep them happy — large TVs, vintage arcade machines, working toilets — there has never been a shred of doubt that chicken is king.

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