If you really weren’t paying attention, you might think that Radiohead has gone kind of upbeat on its recent single “Burn the Witch,” the band’s first new song of its new album, which was released on May 8. Indeed, the fact that the song’s music video features “Davey and Goliath”-style animation only heightens that perception. The song leads off with a Doppler pulse of guitar and orchestral strings, contrasted by a low bass. It moves along at a brisk clip, and is kind of catchy.

But underneath that pop sensibility is a deadly serious message: “Stay in the shadows,” sings frontman Thom Yorke, “Cheer at the gallows/This is a round up/This is a low flying panic attack/Sing a song on the jukebox that goes/Burn the witch/Burn the witch/We know where you live.”

This is the sort of place where Radiohead thrives: That space where the darkness encroaches on spaces that should seemingly be bright and friendly. The band’s best-known hits, “Karma Police” and “Creep,” always seemed to loom ominously on the airwaves, even in the grungier ’90s.

As it goes, the song’s vibrancy subsides, enveloped by a slowly unfolding growing gloom: The strings take on a more mournful sound, the undertow of the bass seems deeper. What seemed almost friendly at the beginning develops a sort of anxiety-inducing quality, until it all suddenly ends.

What’s implicit in the music is made brutally explicit in the video, as the cheery animated figures, which seem to be pulled straight from a children’s cartoon, become increasingly sinister. The illusion of a cheerful model town is stripped away piece by piece — red crosses painted on doors with a terrified tenant locked inside, a girl on the precipice of being dunked in a pond, masked figures poised to torture a confession out of an alleged witch.

The song and video are bald indictments of mob mentality and xenophobia — relevant themes in this political climate — and while neither the song nor video are subtle, there is a depth and musical density there that give the whole thing substance. The video’s narrative has an interloper with a clipboard visiting the town who is increasingly disturbed by the things he finds, until he’s burned inside a giant Wicker Man. (Someone on YouTube quipped, “Nicholas Cage’s acting in this video is much less wooden than usual.”)

This is, of course, not a new message. From Martin Niemoller’s poem where he warns, “When the Nazis came for the communists,/I remained silent;/I was not a communist” to the rock band Rush’s anthemic “be cool or be cast out” in its hit song, “Subdivisions,” the dangers of xenophobia and conformity have been a frequent repeating motif in art. Yet somehow, the message never seems dated. Despite the timelessness of its subject matter, Radiohead’s “Burn the Witch” feels fresh and necessary, and perhaps that’s the song’s most anxiety-inducing aspect.

— Email Victor D. Infante at Victor.Infante@Telegram.com and follow him on Twitter @ocvictor.