Vancouver’s Submission Hold has always eluded simple classification. With a sound that took a turn off the beaten path somewhere between peace punk and post punk, Submission Hold’s albums and live performances are a constantly evolving aural amoeba. Lyrically, front-woman Jen Throw-Up sings about politics, both global and personal, which has led them to be classified as a punk band by some. And while they may be punk in attitude and outlook, their newest release What Holds Back the Elephant is an amalgamation of musical styles that, much like their previous work, transcends any preconceptions that the “punk” label might bring.From the initial dissonant cords of “Final Coup of the Last Millennium,” What Holds… takes countless musical twists and turns from song to song, calling to mind the spastic arrangements of bands like Fugazi. All the while Jen sings, speaks, and shouts her poetic lyrics, matching the fluctuating dynamics of the music with her voice. On “Body Building” she delivers the refrain, “We want more than dirt and worms,” first melodiously and then with added urgency as the song builds. Submission Hold will change from a subdued quiet melody to a driving groove to a rapid off-time sputter all in the span of a single song. This is not a group confined by typical verse-chorus-verse arrangements.
“Sealed June 16, 1994” contains some interesting improvisational elements that appear scattered elsewhere throughout Submission Hold’s music. Later on the album, “Hawks and Doves and Time” incorporates some tightly structured changes and bits of Eastern European folk music. Throughout, What Holds Back the Elephant challenges the ear, the mind, and the heart of the listener.