If you believe The New York Times, next year’s edition of Coachella will once again depend on a few high-profile reunions for headliners. Some form of Guns N’ Roses involving both Axl Rose and Slash will take the stage for the first time in decades after the two reconciled this year; James Murphy’s high-brow dance-punk collective LCD Soundsystem will come together six years after releasing swan song LP This Is Happening, and five years after a massive goodbye show at Madison Square Garden. (Neither band has confirmed the reports.)
The GNR reunion is more exciting in terms of disaster potential and novelty, but the LCD Soundsystem reunion is more interesting. The band’s return isn’t arriving out of the blue. Rumors regarding the band’s 2016 festival touring schedule briefly swirled in October before being shut down by its label, DFA; the band released a Christmas single, "Christmas Will Break Your Heart," just a few days before its Coachella appearance was revealed. Murphy started flipping between hinting and denying a reunion would take place a few minutes after leaving the MSG stage. Circumstantial evidence aside, it’s hard to ignore the fact that no musician’s ever moved from a grand farewell to a festival circuit revival this quickly. Put another way, this is the first time you could’ve tweeted your feelings over both a band’s parting shot and its surprise return.
LCD Soundsystem's final show made fans and writers hysterical
Because it only happened five years ago, it’s not hard to recall the level of hysteria that surrounded LCD’s final show. Take all of the nostalgia and sentiment currently surrounding Kobe Bryant’s last season in the NBA, and cram it into a single building and a single night: that’s how it felt as an observer. It’s a concert that’s been documented by a film, live album, in-store exhibit, and hundreds of heartfelt essays from overexcited music critics; on the eve of the band’s goodbye, Pitchfork published a song-by-song rundown of the band’s discography so long you could download it as a PDF for later reading. (It’s not like I’m exempt from the hype: I watched a webcast of the concert alone in my childhood bedroom.)
If you look at Twitter and other social media networks, it’s easy to find people who feel angry or betrayed by the prospect of an LCD Soundsystem reunion. It’s not like the emotion they felt over the band’s split is being rendered invalid, but the response suggests another way in which this reunion is unusual. Most bands return to touring or recording after an unsatisfactory, diminished exit; LCD disbanded near the peak of its powers and commemorated it with a communal, cathartic experience. A reunion compromises that ending the same way J.K. Rowling chips at the Harry Potter series with every inane tweet about Dumbledore’s sexuality or Harry’s favorite clothing store.
Time is undefeated, and James Murphy knows it
The timing of LCD Soundsystem’s return isn’t just strange because of its unexpected speed or its impact on the band’s carefully constructed narrative. If the band’s going to return to prominence in the new year, its place in today’s critical discourse is unclear; there’s a real possibility that LCD will seem profoundly unfashionable in 2016, a funny fate for a band that mined so much material from the inevitability of being unfashionable. (James Murphy knows better than most that time is undefeated.) Consider the ways in which discussing music has changed over the last half-decade. The average listener is much more conscious of identity, privilege, and the way they transform a given artist’s work; rock’s marginalization at the expense of hip-hop and electronic music has only continued. James Murphy is a rich, straight white guy who basks in the glow of Bowie and Eno’s Berlin trilogy and sings about snobbery, self-pity, and memory; his band is one of the last to wear the "greatest rock band on the planet" belt when that means less than ever.
The time between LCD’s disbanding and comeback is comparable to the gestation period of some of this year’s best albums. Joanna Newsom took five years between Have One on Me and Divers, and Sufjan Stevens put a half-decade between The Age of Adz and Carrie & Lowell. When people call those albums "comebacks," people refute the assertion; I can understand consternation over calling LCD’s Coachella performance a "reunion." The most interesting thing about the reunion is what it says about the inverse relationship between information density and time.
In the years since LCD Soundsystem parted ways, the music marketplace, like James Murphy’s record crates, has become even more crowded. Everyone has a dozen tabs open across YouTube, SoundCloud, and Bandcamp, all waiting to be explored; when that gets tiring, you can retreat to a streaming service stuffed with millions of old favorites. The average reader is privy to an amount of new music, news, and invented controversy that would have induced neural overload a decade ago. And the more we have to process, the faster time moves. LCD’s final concert took place almost five years ago, but there are days it feels more like 20. Maybe it feels like 20 to James Murphy & co., too. A five-year reunion might feel unearned now, but it won’t be long before it’s standard. When Zayn Malik hops on stage with One Direction in 2018, no one’s going to bat an eye.