The xx never planned to become rock stars. Singer-bassist Oliver Sim, singer-guitarist Romy Madley Croft, and producer Jamie Smith (above left, center, and right, respectively), all now 23, just wanted to record songs they'd written in high school when they released their self-titled debut in 2009. But the London group's dance-ready eighties-style synth-pop—with Sim and Madley Croft trading angsty vocals—thrust them into a higher orbit.
"I watched Lost in Translation on the plane over," Sim says from a Tokyo hotel. "I'm feeling pretty Scarlett Johansson right now." And why not? For three years, the xx's songs have been in steady rotation in places tastemakers gather: Milan runways, Shoreditch restaurants, Lower East Side nightclubs. The pressure was high on their follow-up, Coexist, out this month: The album packs even more dramatic atmospherics and emotional tugs-of-war between Sim and Madley Croft, who have been friends (but never dated) since kindergarten. Sim is mum about what inspires their songs: "If I met Lauryn Hill tomorrow and she explained exactly what 'Ex-Factor' meant and it didn't fit how I imagined it, I'd be heartbroken. I don't want to ruin any songs for anyone."
Check out the video for "Angels," the first single from Coexist, below.
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—Jesse Ashlock, deputy editor at Details