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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Panda Teeth Says Farewell to Milwaukee, For Now

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For Ronnie Lee, starting the solo experimental project Panda Teeth was a matter of practicality. Lee had left behind his old band when he moved from Duluth, Minn., to Milwaukee in 2008, and since he didn't have anybody else to play with here, he began making music on his own, using the instruments he had available: an old Casio keyboard, a couple of delay pedals and some drums. Lee hadn't even been much of an electronic music fan going into the project; his old band had played loud thrash-rock.

"I had heard Air's Talkie Walkie, and maybe a few other electronic albums, but that was about it," Lee says. "When I started doing this, I had no idea there were other people doing this as well. I just recently started finding more people in the music scene here to play with, maybe about a year ago."


He's been busy since, playing out regularly around the city and sharing regular improvisational sets at the Red Room with like-minded collaborator Jay Flash. It's a bit bittersweet, then, that he's leaving Milwaukee just as he's beginning to find his place here. After an April 1 performance at the Borg Ward, he's moving to Minneapolis. He considers it a soft farewell, though. He plans on returning regularly and has already lined up a Milwaukee show for June.


Panda Teeth has built a formidable and sometimes daunting discography during Lee's time in Milwaukee, releasing scattered recordings primarily on cassette tapes ("I just never got into CDs," he says. "I've always preferred the ritual of flipping sides and having that physical connection with the music.").


Panda Teeth's latest release is the Sunshine Sin cassette EP, which the label Tundra Dubs will release this week. It joins Panda Teeth's split cassette with three other bands for Breakfast of Champs Records, which is streaming online through the label's Bandcamp site, and Panda Teeth's split cassette with the Eau Claire act Farms, which Lee released through his own small label, Cat People.


Panda Teeth's sound has grown fuller as Lee has amassed more instruments and effects pedals, evolving beyond the harsh, barely adorned digital textures of its inaugural 2008 release, Fuck Mountain, toward prettier, distorted sounds that recall the twitchy ebullience of Animal Collective's recent work. There's no clear aesthetic that defines Panda Teeth's recordings, though. Some tracks are eerie and minimal, while others, like "I Saw the Fonz and He Was Bronze" and "Large She-Ra Castle, Shipped to Australia," are marked by a sense of whimsy reflected in their song titles.


"I don't try to maintain one sound or try to limit myself to stay in one genre," Lee says. "I'm just looking for any sound that's going to provoke a response and make listeners feel something."


Panda Teeth performs on a 7 p.m. all-ages bill with Jay Flash, Sonic J and Sad Ghems Friday, April 1, at the Borg Ward.
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