Earlier today, Radiohead posted a little snippet of video on their Instagram page: a lost and discomfited Thom Yorke, walking through an empty parking lot, looking left and right for… something. As an symbol of a very modern sense of alienation, being lost in a carpark is right up there with other classic Radiohead images: being stuck in an elevator, for instance, or being alone under a cloudless Silicon Valley sky, completely removed from any human contact.
It turns out that the Instagram snippet was taken from the video for new song “Daydreaming”, which the band have now posted in full on YouTube, with — lest you accuse me of burying the lede here — an album release date: this Sunday! (Specifically, 7pm BST, which is 2pm EST and 11am PST.) But let’s get back to the song, because it’s beautiful — a simple 3/4 electric piano arpeggio underpins Yorke’s vocal. The video finds Yorke walking through a series of magically linked quotidian environments – a laundromat, a corner store, a quiet home, and the aforementioned carpark — before emerging into a brilliant snowscape, where he climbs into a cave and lies down by a fire. It’s a sort of escape fantasy, albeit one that’s more haunting than empowering.
It’s no accident that the songs I linked above are OK Computer era ones, because “Daydreaming” could — in terms of concept, at least, if not sound — fit right into that record. It’s a understated expression of modern alienation that recalls “No Surprises” or “Nude” (the latter of which has been around since the late ’90s, although Radiohead never nailed a recorded version until a decade later), its lyric moving subtly from pretty to disconcerting in the best Radiohead tradition: “Dreamers,” sings Yorke, “They never learn… And it’s too late/ The damage is done.” The song concludes with the singly sinister line “We are just happy to serve you.” By that stage, Yorke is already gone, settled in his snow cave to … sleep? Die? It’s unclear, but either way, the imagery is just as beautiful and bleak as the song it accompanies.