Listen to this track by post-rocking, cinematically inclined Oxfordian quintet Radiohead. It’s “Daydreaming”, a single as taken from the band’s ninth studio album A Moon Shaped Pool, released digitally a little over one month ago. The new record will be available in CD and in vinyl form by June 17, which is coming up fast. A special edition with two more tracks is to follow in September.
The accompanying video, starring singer Thom Yorke walking through corridors and opening doors that lead into disconnected locations was directed by none other than P.T Anderson, known for films like Magnolia and Boogie Nights. The director had previously worked with Radiohead orchestral linchpin and multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, whose soundtrack work is featured in several of Anderson’s films.
In a similar fashion, the video for this song was approached as a bona fide film project, submitted to selected theatres directly as 35mm prints. I think this song as it is portrayed in the film is very much in line with what Radiohead have explored previously, namely the nature of existence and where we seem to be going as a civilization.
The music that accompanies these themes is of varied textures; pristine piano, strings matched with beats, and lead singer Yorke’s voice once again presented by Nigel Godrich’s production as only a single hue on the canvas rather than out in front of it. The words he sings are not often easily understood, least of all at the song’s (and the film’s) conclusion, which adds to its otherworldly quality. As we expect from them by now, the music is full of delicate beauty as it is mingled with a sense of disquiet, the key tension in their work ever since OK Computer.
Because of the way this song was presented via the short film, for me the two media have become fused. Is this a film about a song? Or is this a song accompanying a film? It’s both things. With lines like “It’s too late, the damage is done” as a soundtrack behind an aimlessly wandering Thom Yorke, looking a little worse for wear, both song and film seems to be pointing in a common direction. This is not just about the journey of one man, but rather about the journeys we all take.
The man in the film walks through doors, corridors, and landscapes of such variance, it is disorienting. He journeys unnoticed and uncelebrated, and yet also very purposefully, too, even if there isn’t much of a purpose that’s immediately evident. The lyrics seem to be about the inevitable, which again could be applied to the skeletal facts of our existence as a species; that we are crossing the breadth of a sliver of time and space toward an unavoidable and final conclusion, whether it be old age, death, or planetary degradation. That is all but for the mention of “dreamers who never learn”, with the presence of the contrary suggesting the importance of elements in our lives that go beyond cold facts and linear courses; our search for connection, origin, greater awareness, beauty, meaning, expression, and ultimately hope. Somewhere in there, the nature of consciousness can be found, or at least some of the right questions about it can become clearer to us.
Maybe too, an insight or two about how to re-think the direction of our lives and that of our world can be found as well. What is the point of being self-aware if we can’t also change our fate? With this idea in place, maybe there is a means to understand how we can use what we find as fuel for our journey. With a change in perception, maybe there can be a way to change the path of our stories away from the dull drabness of indolence to finally learning something new, taking action before we reach that ominous point of no return. In this, perhaps a time spent daydreaming (and making art out of it) isn’t so wasteful after all, if it helps us to question what we’re given, and to challenge the notion that we are locked onto a single track while traveling to a single, inevitable destination.
In addition to availability on Apple Music and Tidal, Radiohead are offering the new album that also includes pre-orders for CD and vinyl versions direct from their official site, which you can visit right here.
For more about the working relationship between P.T Anderson and Radiohead multi-instrumentalist and arranger Jonny Greenwood around the time Anderson’s film Junun was released, here’s an interesting interview from Spin Magazine. That piece was published last year around the time the recording sessions for A Moon Shaped Pool were reaching a conclusion.