Nocturnal Journal is the second album by The Bipolar Bears, an indie-virtual-experimental group which came out with Water Therapy in 2006. Following the thematic technique of the first album which sang of love, longing and loss using the metaphor of water, Nocturnal Journal focuses on the subject of night and darkness while intuiting a deeper, more personal story coming from the artist. As any album with a predefined theme, in this case the nocturne, it runs the challenge of finding all the angles we traditionally assign to the word, exploring them, and giving a new story to a much abused metaphor, transcending our notions of that archetype to provide us with a deeper look into what else it might hold.
The album contains ten songs, starting out with "Comet Comes," a meditation into the brevity of stellar happenings, in this case a transient lover. Already it tries to define what the album should be: in Eric Gamalinda's words, brief, beautiful and blinding. "Comet Comes" is delivered with such cold consistent rhythm which highlights the contained anguish in the persona. It is a sad voice trying to expound on happiness, trying to rationalize. Another song which focuses on this transience, albeit more overtly is "The Night is Too Short." All the possibilities of a life contained in a few hours.
But not all songs end up leaving the listener with this subtle fear of the coming end. Nocturnal Journal picks up with "Midnight Picnic," an upbeat song emphasizing the midnight trysts, "God Made a Star to Shine on You" tries to recreate the optimism one often shares to a loved other, focusing on the other side of the night, the stars and the light. Other songs are more ambivalent: "The Moon as a Stalker" is both creepy and warm, the moon as a source of light and as a force of danger. While some songs are more sure of themselves, focusing on a single emotion that flows and is expanded through the whole track, others are more chaotic, sang through a louder, more complicated rhythm.
In most of its songs, the persona identifies its other taking on different forms: a lover, a friend, always someone lost or in the process of being lost. The songs fluctuate from the bliss of love and hope to fears of passing moments. It is a character which takes on the form of a protector, dominant enough to command the perceived addressee and assure them of things such as the powers of stars and God, and yet also powerless enough to know that hours pass and that one is not always taken along for the ride, as is evident in songs like "Apology to the Apogee" and "The Night is Too Short."
The addressee is a hazy figure as well until it takes the form of a character named Joana, whom no one knows except for the persona. Her character comes from the point of view of the artist--she is his alone. And yet the name and character is common enough, everyone has a Joana in their lives, the picture of a pretty and sullen girl, the stuff of dreams and pain and songs. The songs plays on that theme, here is a girl, I've hurt her and now she's sad. It is common enough to ring a bell in everyone's hearts. It is the same story again, and yet that is where it exactly pinches - it's the same story because it happens again and again.
"(I Love You) Like I Love the Night" stands out, not only because it is the only song with a female voice but more because one can imagine it as the other finally finding her voice. It might be 'Joana' but then it might not. Here is someone singing of longevity and patience, directly opposing the persona's penchant for endings. It is the song that the listener might have waited for, without knowing it, the one the gives the significant turn in the album. It could be the voice of just one persona the original singer has been singing for, the sum of these voices. Whatever it is, she perks up the mood in the middle of the album, and because she sings of something that could last, she disappears from the album entirely after.
The album ends with "Ikaw ang Nais Ko," a Filipino song focused on sober longing for the unknown other. Here the artist takes no brakes, no stops on subtlety. Here is what I've lost and here is what I'm after. Arriving at the end it emphasizes the lack of closure, the discord boiling through the earlier tracks. It's a wonderful ending simply because it is hesitant to end.
Nocturnal Journal plays on the wonders and nightmares of a few hours when we are mostly pondering the hours that came before, and the hours that came after. It is strangely familiar in the sense that we are all nocturnal creatures, creating these reckless stories of pain and confusion and ambivalence, to live them again for another night.