‘Panic! at the Disco’ is a pop or alternative rock band formed in the state of Nevada in 2004 by Ryan Ross, a vocalist/guitarist, Spencer Smith and Brendon Urie. ‘Panic! at the Disco’ applies complex chords such as augmented triads and half-diminished harmonies in their music. These chords are uncommon in pop music.
From their first to their latest album, ‘Panic! at the Disco’ has showcased the fact they are not a conventional band, bypassing the rules that popular and commercial music demand.
Chromaticism is when you use a musical note that does not belong to the key. This is not common in popular music, reaching levels of complexity difficult to define by a single genre due to the presence of elements of pop, rock and even jazz at moments.
Popular music has basic harmony and is Diatonic, using notes that belong to a single key. They generally use the same chord progression ( I , V , IV , VI). This is one of the many rules ‘Panic! at the Disco’ does not follow. The majority of their music is chromatic, which can be explained as when many of the notes utilized do not belong to the chosen key.
‘Panic! at the Disco’ uses augmented chords, “a major chord with a raised (sharpened) fifth”. In an augmented triad we will have the scale formula 1- 3 – #5. This equates to the notes C, E, G# for the C augmented chord”.
The songs analyzed here are ” “Death of a Bachelor” from “Panic! at The Disco’s” fifth album and “High Hopes” from their latest album “Pray for the Wicked.”
Death of a bachelor
“Death of a bachelor” bears the same name as the album it appears on. In this case, we are going to be studying a half-diminished chord in the part where the song says “the long road, watching ” at 00:35
- Fig 1 Voice-leading reduction representing the section beginning at 00:35 in “Death of a Bachelor”. Reduction prepared by author.
Here the second chord is viewed more as a D half-diminished chord. This is mainly due to the presence of the D note in both chords. In F minor (the minor IV chord), the D would act as the major 6th, to add colour to the chord.
If the first chord were something other than D, then the second chord could be seen as F minor with an added 6th. Resolving in a minor plagal cadence to the tonic, C.
However, with D minor 7 being the first chord in the progression, it can be assumed that D is still the tonic of the second chord, this created a D half-diminished chord, that then ends up being resolved in C.
“High Hopes” is part of the latest album released by Panic at the Disco “Pray for the Wicked “. The part I wanted to focus on is 1 minute and 6 seconds into the song, where the lyrics read: “a little complicated” and the half-diminished chord occurs. This part of the song is a pre-chorus.
- Fig 2 – Voice-leading reduction of the Pre-chorus of “High Hopes”, done by the author.
In this example, the last chord is acting as the minor IV chord in the key of F, which can be construed by analyzing the bass notes. The left-hand plays a Bb octave which establishes the root of the chord, and the presence of the G note as the 6 of the chord helps lead back to the tonic, as it is the second scale degree in F major.
Like the previous examples, the inner voice of this segment follows the chromatic scale. This leads the progression to a resolution to the tonic chord, which is also suggested by the voice moving back towards the C.
However, this progression features a half-diminished chord at the end, which fulfils a similar function of wanting resolution. The chord also follows the movement of the inner voice, as it begins to descend down chromatically back to the C.
The use of a half-diminished chord adds some extra colour to the segment, as it is the only chord that does not feature the noted F and A, as they have moved up to G and Bb. This difference could also be used to signify the end of the phrase, indicating a return to the tonic. This is also helped by the fact that all the notes in the half-diminished chord don’t need to move more than a whole step to resolve to F major.
‘Panic! at the Disco’
Considering ‘Panic! at the Disco’s use of half-diminished and augmented chords, which are less typical to pop music, could be argued that these chords are an attempt to find a unique sound that can be distinctive to the band. To stand out from their competitors,” the band uses chords that one might not expect to hear in the genre to craft a recognizable sound.