When Aisha Burns’s album Argonauta crossed my desk, I was immediately interested. I’d spent years following Balmorhea, the Austin sextet to which she contributed violin and occasional vocals. Her 2013 release, Life in the Midwater, was an arresting solo debut—the lush violin pulls and Burns’s rich, weeping voice echoed in my head for weeks after. But more than any of the San Antonio native’s work, solo or otherwise, Argonauta (Western Vinyl, May 25) has settled deep into my bones.
Sonically, Argonauta is a stunning composition that builds and expands on Life in the Midwater. Simple constructions, primarily built around six-strings, are bolstered by layers of crying electric guitar and strings—stoic and powerful in their longing—that allow her voice to shine. But that wasn’t the only reason the record stuck with me. Through it, I discovered that Burns and I share a specific bond, one that was recently described to me as “the shittiest club to be in”: we’ve both lost our mothers. The circumstances were different. Burns lost her’s in 2012, when she was an adult, after splitting her time between Austin and San Antonio to help care for her for five months; I lost mine long before, as a child. But through Burns’s writing on Argonauta, I recognized that there are some stages of grief that are universal, the kind that people spend years trying to parse. And she did it through her music.
“It felt like it was just like the easiest way, or really the only way that I could really figure out how to work through all of those feelings,” she says. “They were hard to communicate, and I didn’t really feel comfortable talking about the stage of grief that I was in, or being depressed about losing my mom or any of the really hard parts of the years after someone passes away. So singing was one of the only releases that I had.”
And yet, as she moves through the album’s more somber moments (on the title track, she cries: “Momma!/Come down and stay a while/I’m but a casual threat to the reaper now/Come down and show me how”), the sadness is marked by something uplifting, too. Burns credits this with a new relationship she started eight months after her mother passed away, one that took her away from her native Texas to Massachusetts two years ago. Burns translated the juxtaposition between losing a close friend, support system, and parent and a new love blooming into a sense of hope.
“There’s nothing on the record that feels completely defeated, you know? I think even in the saddest moments I still had this little inkling that maybe something will be OK,” she says. “I think that’s a product of having such happiness and such sadness and devastation coursing through me at the same time.”
I spoke with Burns days before the anniversaries of our mothers’ passing, who both died in May. And then there’s Mother’s Day. With those dates approaching, there was something cathartic in talking to someone about what loss means, even years down the road. We discussed the need to talk about death more (“I get so frustrated how much we can’t talk about these kinds of things, when at the core of being alive is figuring out how to confront death,” she astutely notes), and the cosmic feeling of unfairness. For a moment, as I braced myself for a wave of emotion that comes each May, I felt less alone. And when I listen to Argonauta, I’m able to share that feeling again.
Argonauta releases on May 25. Listen to “Where Do I Begin”: