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CESAREO GARASA: Don't miss out on these recent musical gems

Before we tread too far into an uncertain new year, let us spotlight some of last year’s local releases that may have flown under the radar. All of these are available on streaming sites like Spotify unless otherwise noted.

“Neonsphere (Tape A)” is a fantastic release from local singer Jehdiah (pronounced Juh-dee-ah), aka Jehdiah Woodrow, that’s steeped in mood and melody.

From the sound of a seatbelt clicking at the start of the album’s opening track “PSA,” and bookending countdowns at the beginning and end of the EP, it’s evident that Jehdiah planned on taking listeners on a trip and that he succeeded.

The album is expertly produced and sonically intoxicating — luxurious actually — with Jehdiah’s lyrical themes ranging from light yearning (“Crush”) to weightier introspection (“What U Think,” “Beneath the Surface,” “Else”).

“Neonsphere (Tape A)” is a triumph and one of the best releases I’ve heard in years. Bonus points on Jehdiah managing to reference both Billie Eilish and Oingo Boingo (probably unintentionally) on “Else.” The EP is a brisk 17½ minutes. Indulge it.

Singer Itze Garcia is another local artist who’s gone the first-name-only route, stylized all-caps ITZE (pronounced EEt-seh, like “eat” and “seh”), which is a perfect representation for her powerful voice and bold delivery.

Her single — as well as its video — “Flower Street” is both a bilingual tribute to her community and a statement of personal purpose and call for unity.

“It’s an ode to my family who has come from nothing, to my roots, but it’s also an ode to all minorities who feel oppressed,” said Garcia.

It’s also an opportunity for the 20-year-old to showcase her huge voice and capacity for vocal pyrotechnics. That high note at the end of the tune? Pure fire.

Glenn Matthews is a local musician who plays drums as one half of the live-looping duo Ghost Dance. His EP “Just Born” (currently available on Soundcloud under glennmatthewsmusic) is a dedication to his newborn daughter recorded on the day of her birth in August 2019.

The release is mostly the 24-year-old singing and strumming an electric guitar. It’s raw, unpolished and unfiltered; the wail of someone coming to terms with the overwhelming emotions of becoming a young new father. It also manages to track its challenges, as dealt with in the 13-minute closing track, “Lauren’s Lament.”

When Matthews sings “I Love You” on the album’s opening track of the same name, it’s an honest and primal representation that borders on spiritual. There’s joy there, but it’s overwhelmed by a ragged wonder. “Just Born” isn’t for everyone and it can be a bit rough to maneuver through, but it’s an honest reflection of a universally life-altering and life-affirming moment.

Local DJ and artist Josex, aka Josex Citialin, released “Tumbling Upward,” which, like Jehdiah’s “Neonsphere (Tape A),” is an airy, engaging release that’s as easy to dance to as it is to absorb. It has a sense of casual excellence.

There isn’t a wasted note in “Tumbling Upward.” Each song ebbs and flows while retaining the listener’s curiosity and attention, which is rare for a mostly instrumental dance EP. From the sinister and ethereal opener “Compassion” to closing track “The Onceler,” Josex hasn’t just created a superb release but managed to capture a feel that’s a particular halcyon shade of darkness.

Fresno-based violinist Patrick Contreras might not call Bakersfield his home, but he has deep ties to our community with his affiliation with the Jay Smith Group and performances at the Kern County Fair. In 2020, the 38-year-old musician traveled to play front-yard concerts to make ends meet as well as keep his performance chops up.

That year also saw the release of his soft-heat, world music primer, the album “A Little Night Music,” which went to No. 9 on the classical crossover Billboard chart and No. 1 on the Amazon and iTunes Latin album charts (as well as to 33 and 45 on their top album charts, respectively).

There’s a reason for the album’s success: It has universal appeal and utility combined with solid artistic vision and sterling musical execution. It checks off all the boxes for listeners, regardless if you’re cleaning your house, driving, wanting something smooth and relaxing to listen to, or even something more intimate.

Lokust Luciano released two albums in 2020: “Playing With Myself,” which I covered last year, and “Diary of a Gimpy Kid” (both containing explicit language), which once again exhibits the rapper’s irreverent, defiant and quick-witted style.

His rapping and lyrical skills are undeniable and unapologetic. Luciano isn’t merely subversive, he’s unafraid to examine his own heartbreak and abuse like an autopsy and dares us to keep a very honest eye open to our own failings and hypocrisy. “Diary of a Gimpy Kid” is a definite evolution and a strong one at that.

Luciano also recently collaborated with fellow local rapper NineFingers on the latter’s single “Ogami.”

Contributing columnist Cesareo Garasa brings you The Lowdown on local music and entertainment every other Thursday.