Where else but Detroit could produce a band like the psycho-musical / performance art dryheave Thoughts of Ionesco? Founded by vocalist/guitarist/teenager Sean Madigan Hoen, TOI released a pair of disturbing hardcore albums which blinded listeners with warped and detuned guitars, anguished vocals and supported them with punishing live performances of blood, guts, and spilled liquor bottles that surpassed indie, punk or any sort of other rock in favor of torture rock. Think of being wasted, lying on a stranger’s bathroom floor at some party in a puddle of what you hope is your own vomit, mix it with a bad acid trip locked in your closet with a kitchen knife convinced that your roommate is going to kill you.
Hoen followed TOI with two on-again/off-again outfits, Leaving Rouge and the Holy Fire. Through three discs of strangely folksy Midwestern shoegaze, Leaving Rouge was a hard-again/soft-again indie sort of thing that drew such disparate comparisons as late-’80s Cure, Leonard Cohen, U2, Goo Goo Dolls and Red House Painters, which really just meant that they made already depressed critics even more depressed. The Holy Fire released two EPs of catchy but heartfelt hard edged indie rock. Think Superchunk with testicles. Both bands were saturated in critical acclaim from their inception, benefiting from Hoen’s talent as a songwriter and his unmistakably great voice.
In 2007, after relocating to New York, Hoen released the solo The Liquor Witch, which isn’t just the best indie rock album to use finger snaps as an instrument, but the culmination of his previous work and an ultra-hip update of the singer-songwriter genre. He combines overtures of teenage dramatics (“We Are Pedestrian”) that are in abundance in the underground nowadays (thanks you very much Conner Oberst) with deep ballads that penetrate the force field indie rock has attempted to erect against real humanity, producing songs that make the listener resent whoever it was that screwed this poor kid up. A kid this young, with this much talent, shouldn’t be singing lines like “When I’m gone please remember me / Bury my ashes in the backyard under a tree / Say no prayers in my name” (“Heat of the Night”) even if he does so with a Springsteen-like mumbling charm.