More than a simple set of dancefloor tracks, Glitterbug's third studio album Cancerboy instead re-configures Till Rohmann's childhood struggle with cancer into long-form musical form. As he states in the liner notes, he spent much of his childhood in hospitals, undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, and gradually developed a need to address the topic in his music; in fact, so strong is his identification with the experience that he refers to himself in said notes as ‘Cancerboy aka Glitterbug.' Clearly such an experience would profoundly shape anyone, especially when it occurred at such a young age and when the threat of death loomed as a very real possibility. And so we have Cancerboy, an album, in Rohmann's words, “about cancer, bitter struggles, desperation, hope, anger, sickness, and at the same time, a fervent love and deep appreciation of life.”
The personalized character of the project is made clear from the outset when “Backwards / To Guess” opens with hospital-related sounds such as the murmuring voices of hospital staff and the gentle wheeze of a patient's respirator. The focus shifts thereafter to more fundamentally musical content, with many of the eleven tracks presented in a kind of deep, ambient art-techno style where a sense of dancefloor urgency is present even when the tracks hew to a generally cool temperature. The Glitterbug style, at least as documented on this recording, is relatively uncluttered and atmospheric, and heavily focused on drive. Techno, house, dub, and even acid are reference points, rhythmically speaking, though often subtly and sometimes indirectly. Characteristic of the album are hot-wired, propulsive tracks like “Undertow” and “Passages” that Glitterbug powers with insistent synth figures, skipping rhythms, and claps. Rohmann isn't afraid to let the material unfold at its own pace either, with six of the eleven tracks pushing past the eight-minute mark. Building slowly, they often grow in force, such that a shape-shifter like “Don't Stop” opens in dub-techno mode before blossoming into a club raver, while the atmospheric techno of “Outside My Window” likewise swells in intensity and scope throughout its seven-minute run.
Admittedly, there are dark moments: a claustrophobic, industrial-styled ambiance permeates the opening minutes of “From Here On,” but rather than the gloom lifting, the mood becomes ever more oppressive when electrical buzzing and clangorous sounds dominate the aural space. It's important to note, however, that the material, while heavily weighted with autobiographical concern, is not solely despairing in tone. Instead, affirmation, hope, and determination inflame a number of tracks (their titles, too, as illustrated by the set-closer “We'll Still Be Here Tomorrow”), and as such, while Rohmann might stare into the “Abyss,” that doesn't mean he plummets into it. Cancerboy is a survivor's tale, in other words, a story about resilience, not defeat. For the listener, the project benefits greatly from the conceptual underpinning in that it unifes the tracks under a common theme. For Rohmann, it serves, one presumes, an even greater purpose in providing some degree of catharsis for the arduous experiences he's had to endure as a cancer victim.