Having made one clattering, rampaging disc for their debut on Load, Fright Makes Right, Coughs don't let up on the intensity for Secret Passage. Though this one does start off a little more calmly in comparison, with "Quagmire"'s slow then quicker martial beat-driven arrangement providing a perfect bed for Anya Davidson's gripping, shrieked delivery. Using the term "post-punk revival" these days could almost be an insult in some corners, but this isn't emo backwash -- instead the arrangement suggests Joy Division's raw early approach and the start of No Wave in New York, ear-piercing and obsessively focused. As the album continues, it's that focus which comes more to the fore -- if Fright Makes Right, which was no less structured at many points, sprawled to experiment with various approaches -- Secret Passage is much more of a building blast, each song almost feeling like a movement in part of a larger whole. Throughout the disc, Carrie Vinarsky's bass is some serious business, a deathly rumble that sounds like it's cutting through a subterranean cave, and most of the performances feel anchored around that instrument, emphasized further by the thick, murky mixing of the album. The rest of the instrumentalists are no slouches -- the grinding, piercing guitar of Vanessa Harris and Seth Sher, and Jon Ziemba's time-signature-switching drumming, as well as Jail Flanagan's wild-card sax and keyboards, all interlock wonderfully. Meanwhile, Davidson reigns supreme, and just when you think you've gotten used to the sheer intensity in her voice it gets better -- the conclusion of "Dark Powers" is utterly chilling. Add to all this some inspired introductions to many of the songs, setting stages with theatrical drama -- the keyboard hook to "Life of Acne," the bass and sax introduction to "Colors and the Way They Make You Feel" -- and the end result shines darkly.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett