An argonauta, the tiny horned octopus from which the singer and violinist Aisha Burns’s sophomore album takes its name, is a bittersweet symbol of independence; the offsprings remain cradled by their mother until they’re released to swim alone through the open ocean. Like a young argonauta, Burns herself is caught in “a strange chasm in my life,” as she says in the album notes, and Argonauta finds her grappling with the loss of her mother while, at the same time, she discovers true love. The album’s brilliance stems from her ability to navigate these two emotional poles with grace, highlighting the strange ways in which grief can manifest itself.
Burns, originally from Austin and now living outside of Boston, released her first album, Life in the Midwater, in 2013. The arrangements were spare, leaving plenty of room for her voice to exert control, winding and soaring with ease. Yet Argonauta takes her vocal prowess to a new level—more confident and operatic. She evokes Thom Yorke’s plaintive cry on standout tracks like “I Thought I Knew You Well” and “Would You Come To Me”; occasionally, she delivers the album’s most poignant messages with an air of almost stately detachment, bringing to mind the German cult singer Nico, acting as a foil for the rich string arrangements, equally cinematic and mournful, that share space with her cutting acoustic guitar.
Burns’s songs don’t follow conventional structures, and their open-ended nature reflects her tendency to ask more questions than give answers. “Oh, won’t some otherworldly joy / Please step on in?” she pleads in one of the album’s most climactic moments, on closing track “Where Do I Begin.” Steeped in pain, it’s hard to not also hear, in the line, Burns’s sheer awe of the world around her.