It was only four years ago that things truly seemed, ahem, hopeful at 2024 Records.

The burgeoning indie label had stylish offices in Minneapolis' Warehouse District, a van to lend to its bands for touring and even promotional drink coasters made up with the 2024 logo on them.

"I mean, how many labels have coasters?" Hopefuls co-leader Darren Jackson marveled at the time.

Even with an Internet-savvy game plan and a roster of buzzing bands, though, 2024 Records has fallen on hard times along with the rest of the record industry. Its offices are closed, and its operator admits the operation is in the red. That's all so commonplace among record labels right now that it's not really anything worth reporting.

What is unusual -- especially in our relatively congenial music scene -- is that the label is trying to hold a couple of its bands responsible for its financial predicament.

Both the Hopefuls and Romantica, the two biggest acts on the label, are fighting to get out of their 2024 contracts. The label's chief proprietor, Nathan Roise, wants to hold them to their multi-album deals until he is given "fair compensation" for the time and energy he invested in them. Lawyers are even involved.

Yuck.

Members of both bands, who did not want to talk on the record, made it sound as if Roise were acting unrealistically about the label's future. They were, not surprisingly, frustrated by the dispute. The Hopefuls' long-overdue second album is essentially finished, but its release is hung up in the contract rift.

Roise talked about promises that the bands themselves did not keep -- mainly that they would tour a lot to promote their records, which neither did. Their members invested time and money in building home recording studios, lessening the need for record-label support.

"I'm not holding anybody hostage or trying to extort them," he said, "but contracts are in place to protect both sides. It's only fair for them to consider the substantial investment I have tied up into both bands."

Roise pointed to the Plastic Constellations -- who left 2024 for the bigger New York indie label French Kiss -- as proof that he has no hard feelings when bands want to move on. Other acts that recorded for the label include Valet, Fitzgerald and Duplomacy.

"The label was founded on being a springboard for bands to get to bigger and better places," he said. "It's always been a labor of love for me."

Back in 2004, Roise indeed painted a picture of 2024 being more of a co-op and less of a moneymaking venture. He said then that his other job, as a Realtor, would pay his bills. Unfortunately, real estate is another industry that has since gone in the toilet.

"It's stay-alive time," Roise glumly noted. "But I'm only asking for what's fair."

Both sides are hoping for resolution within a few weeks.

Hymie's for sale

There's no talk of a slumping record industry over at Hymie's Records, but the women who run the renowned vinyl-specialty store on E. Lake Street are nonetheless trying to get out.

Owners Auralee Likes and Julie Wellman -- clerks who took over when Jim (Hymie) Peterson died in 2000 -- have put the place up for sale even though they say business has been steady and (if we're to believe all the trend stories) vinyl is in the midst of a big resurgence.

"I've been hearing that since I started working here in 1995," Wellman retorted.

Both in their 30s, Likes and Wellman essentially want to move on to other things while they're still young. They've enjoyed the work, Wellman said, "but it is a lot of work." No matter what, she added, "We want to make sure the store continues in good hands."

How renowned is Hymie's? When I interviewed the Beastie Boys in 2005, they started raving about the store even before I could ask a question.

Dream Weaver

I don't want to wait until Ben Weaver's release party (Sept. 12 at the Turf Club) to rave about his first album for Chicago's alt-country/twang-punk label Bloodshot Records, "The Ax in the Oak," which came out Tuesday. In a fair and just world, this sucker would be a career-making album.

Weaver once again reunited with Chicago producer Brian Deck (Low, Modest Mouse), who added a subtle layer of electronic ambience to his last album. This time, the electronics aren't so subtle. One song, the ba-ba-ba/bossa-nova-tinged "Pretty Girl," might be mistaken for Eurodisco were it not for Weaver's gravelly moan of a voice. Several other tracks have synthesizers and drum machines mingling with violins and surprisingly little guitar. It all works, though, and often in fascinating ways.

What hasn't changed is Weaver's jolting talent as a poet. "You get one wish for each dot on the June bug's wings," he sings in the opening track, "There's only one dot on the one I'm holding." That's just the start of an album's worth of longing and loneliness.

More Westerberg

The mystery of Paul Westerberg's "49:00" continues to get weirder. Even with a four-star review in the new issue of Rolling Stone, the download-only "album" is no longer available for download (not legally, anyway). However, a new recording titled "5:05" just became available via PaulWesterberg.com. The track is presumably the five minutes that were missing in the original "49:00," which actually clocked in at just under 44 minutes. You can buy it for either 99 cents or $5.05. Got all that? Up next: Perhaps an album titled "I Buried Paul."

Random mix

Atmosphere has joined the lineup at the union-sponsored Labor Day festival on Harriet Island during the Republican National Convention. Other acts added to the Sept. 1 event in St. Paul include Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def and Billy Bragg along with the previously announced Steve Earle, Allison Moorer and "Tom Morello and friends." Tickets are on sale for a labor-friendly $10. More info at TakeBackLaborDay.com. ...

Bragg is also scheduled to perform at the Wake Up World Hoot, an offshoot of Jim Walsh's Mad Ripple Hootenannys, happening at the Parkway Theater in south Minneapolis Sept. 2-4 with many of Walsh's regular participants (including Ike Reilly). Tickets are on sale at BrownPaperTickets.com. ...

Gary Louris' Aug. 25 gig at the Guthrie Theater's Proscenium Stage will be a solo acoustic showing and not a repeat of his March show with the band Vetiver. Haley Bonar landed the opening slot. Louris and Mark Olson have a few fall dates booked to promote their duo album, "Ready for the Flood" (coming Sept. 16), but nothing in town. ...

After the long wait for their all-crew album, the members of Doomtree aren't wasting any time putting out the individual CDs they promised would follow. Cecil Otter has a party at the Triple Rock on Aug. 29 to tout his disc "Rebel Yellow," and Mike Mictlan and Lazerbeak will take over the Entry on Sept. 28 to promote "Hand Over Fist." ...

The Melismatics won a Lollapalooza-related battle of the bands two weekends ago in Chicago, where they got to play to a bunch of music-biz folks at the Double Door and then rock the festival's MySpace stage. Their new John Fields-produced album is slated to land Sept. 30. ...

Mark Mallman's debut with his digi-romp trio Ruby Isle (also featuring I Am the World Trade Center's Dan Geller) will arrive next month on Kindercore Records, but the CD party is a couple weeks earlier, Aug. 29, at the Kitty Cat Klub. ...

Sun Country Airlines, they of hamburger notoriety, are now serving local musicians on their flights. The company kicked off a Minnesota music campaign Tuesday with an actual in-flight concert featuring Dan Wilson, Tim Mahoney and George Farber, who played aboard a plane that essentially circled and came back. Lorie Line also performed in the terminal beforehand. No word on whether Wilson and Mahoney had to pay $25 luggage fees for their guitars.

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658