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Laura Stevenson, 'State'

Some of Laura Stevenson's songs are as delicate as soap bubbles; others hit like sledgehammers. In "State," the first single from Stevenson's self-titled sixth album (due out August 6), she pulls off both tricks simultaneously. Equally adept at grungy rock and finely detailed folk music — last year, just before the pandemic, she even released an exquisite Tiny Desk concert with a string section — Stevenson leans hard on quiet-loud-quiet dynamics throughout "State," which lets dreamy tenderness and wall-of-sound catharsis orbit each other like a binary star.

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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 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.)