There are traditions in rock music, multitudes of styles and genres, and not all of them are pretty or pop. The band known as Liars come from one of those, rooted firmly in a lineage of forceful dissonance that stretches back to the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray,” '70s no-wave and the elegant noise of Sonic Youth.
At the El Rey Theatre on Friday, Liars seemed to operate with total abandon, unloading waves of psychedelic static and subversive melody familiar to fans of Joy Division or Gang of Four. This was uncompromising stuff, but there were strange hooks and traditional song structures buried underneath those layers of noise and bursts of improv.
Frontman Angus Andrew, wearing a pink suit, was a dapper, disheveled, Nick Cave-like figure, waving his arms in a windmill motion, howling a catchy melody. Owners of Liars albums can study the lyrics for clues, but at the El Rey, words were often just sounds, a means toward some raw emotion.
Since forming early this decade out of CalArts, Liars have followed dramatic shifts in direction from one album to another, alienating some fans and critics, and winning them back again. Their newest, “Liars,” may be the band’s most accessible.
On Friday, the new album’s “Plaster Casts of Everything” had the raw, intense drive of Queens of the Stone Age at their wildest, as Andrew shouted, “I want to run away! I don’t care where I go!”
Minus the fuzz, “Houseclouds” could have been an ‘80s pop song. The band got quieter and no less compelling on “The Other Side of Mt. Heart Attack,” a ragged kind of lullaby, with Andrew lilting and momentarily vulnerable, waving a limp fist above his head.
At other times, songs were hardly the point, drifting into the experimental tradition of early punk, as Aaron Hemphill put down his guitar and joined Julian Gross on drums to explore intriguing beats: martial, tribal, polyrhythmic, always solid and unpredictable.
Before it was over, Andrew expressed appreciation for the band’s soundman -- a well-placed sentiment, as Liars’ sound was never less than crisp. That’s a crucial detail for any band that travels in swirls of noise. At the El Rey, nothing was lost as Liars collided form and formlessness, their intentions ever intriguing.