In some circles, Mae already has two strikes against it: a Jesus-centric label (Tooth & Nail) and a first-class emo pedigree born of road trips with the likes of Piebald, Copeland, and the Starting Line. Yet the cuddly keyboards and doe-eyed riffs on the Norfolk, Virginia quintet's 2003 debut album, Destination: Beautiful deserve a better fate than stale stereotypes. Such tunes as "This Time Is the Last Time" and "Goodbye, Goodnight" possess the summery jangle of Reckoning-era R.E.M., while "Embers and Envelopes" and "All Deliberate Speed" shimmer with hooks as sugary and malleable as taffy.
Dave Gimenez's equally dulcet vocals conjure the conspiratorial tone of Dashboard Confessional, the peppy enthusiasm of Jimmy Eat World's Jim Adkins, and the wistful gushing of Joe Pernice, giving lilting song-poems about the usual love and regret a velvet touch. Mae's lyrics, simultaneously secular and spiritual, and their unabashedly earnest choruses closely resemble those of another band often misunderstood during its infancy -- U2. Like the best parts of the Irish rockers' early 1980s output, Beautiful's emotion is innocent and pure, lacking artifice, but brimming with irresistible sentiment.