>Holiday at Sea


One of my favorite songs is “Holiday at the Sea” by Anathallo. The lyrics are as follows.

I looked down at my shoes, because I felt the drip

of blood fall from my hammer to the leather

through my socks. The knots kept tightening their

grip. The cords (chords) ring out the history, and

time is a mocker as a remedy. The preacher wore a suit,

I knew he would. The tiny print rice paper

books, I hated how they saw me so transparently.

This heart, my thread, I tried so hard. The best

that I could sew was death, no matter how I

covered it with deeds. What’s there left to do?

Because the mud only covers up the stains… who

could imagine a holiday at the sea? Down there, in

the sea, I should hold my breath ’til this other

person’s blood is washing off of me. Down there,

in the sea, I should hold my breath ’til this

other person’s blood is washing over me.

It’s difficult to trace the structure of the fragmented, stream-of-concious lyrics, but musically there’s three movements. The song begins in solemn lament. At the beckoning of a pastor, the singer contemplates the crucifixion, and, rather graphically, takes personal responsibility. Acts 2:23 seems to be in view here.

His response is to try to make up for his crime through good works, which only yields futility and further despair.

The second movement is abrupt and unexpected. The pensive dirge erupts into a jubilant chorus, filled with horns, shout-outs, and all of Anathallo’s other glorious peculiarities. This is salvation, redemption, regeneration. Having reached the end of himself, the singer experiences divine grace. Musically, the sheer magnitude clearly makes this the focal point of the song, as further evidence by appearance of the song’s title, which is a quote from C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The third movement settles into what is a best understood as the synthesis of the first two movements. The broodiness has returned, but is decidedly optimistic. Having experienced divine grace in movement two, the singer now struggles with the application of his new faith. Although he is is still conflicted, he is trusting in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for his salvation.

In recent years, Anathallo has incorporated lyrics from Hannah Marcus’s song “Laos” in their live performance of “Holiday at the Sea”, which form an inclusio to the original lyrics. This additional element creates a brilliant juxtaposition.

he was a pretty boy

stayed at our house

he took his girlfriend and

they went off to Laos

they took a photo there

of his heart

somethings you should never see

somethings you should never see

somethings you should never see

but there they are

there they are

at the last supper sits

jesus christ

neath his disciples fits

some device

holding double A batteries

on the side

and make the halo

circling round his head

twinkle on and off in red

as he holds up a piece of bread

and rolls his eyes

rolls his eyes

how could that poet stay

such a phrase

never look an angel straight

in the face

he knows they like to wait in the strangest places

motel rooms pharmacies

photographs batteries

some things you should never see

some things you should never see

but hey

you see them anyway


This song seems to be a personal struggle with the problem of evil and suffering. When faced with the tragedy of a close friend’s brutal death, the songwriter seeks some sort of rational or meaning, but reaches no conclusion. The commercial, electronic Jesus the singer knows (most likely in American evangelicalism) is disinterested and offers no consolation.

While I am uneasy with such imagery, I can concur. An etheral, disinterested savior offers no solution to our sin (movement one) or suffering (Laos). However, the biblical Jesus took on real flesh and blood and lived among us, bore our sins on the cross and conquered death in the resurrection. This Jesus, the real Jesus, freely offers true grace and authentic comfort.

About mjbutterworth

Coffee. Books. Bicycles.
This entry was posted in anathallo, Music. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to >Holiday at Sea

  1. laceylou says:

    >most excellent post, sir.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s