Sounds like Paul Westerberg has been hanging out in the basement again. Which means, thankfully, he finally went back to work.

After another four-year hiatus partially brought on by a screwdriver-to-hand injury two years ago, the Replacements frontman quietly issued a new album this past weekend. He's not really billing it as an album, though. Instead, it's being sold as a single-track download for 49 cents via his website (via Amazon.com).

What's more, there are no song titles on it, no record label behind it and no explanation. Just a hand-scrawled CD cover with the words, "49:00 ... of Your Time/Life." More weirdness: It actually clocks in at 43:55 and comes up as "Bling Bling" by Mac Carter if you load it into your iTunes.

Hardly the kind of mature work you'd expect from a rock vet who turns -- you guessed it -- 49 at the end of this year.

An uninitiated fan might mistake this download as some kind of a throwaway joke. Most of us, however, know better. Westerberg's legacy is pretty much built on great things that weren't very well planned.

"49:00" is made up of individual songs just like any other album. They're just not split up by track numbers. In some cases, they're not even split up. A few songs start before their predecessors end, and a couple more are randomly stacked on top of each other like two music-spouting Web pages opened simultaneously.

So, the editing's a little odd. And so are the waning minutes, which feature spliced-together snippets of various covers ("Hello Goodbye," "Born to Be Wild," "Stupid Girl," "Rocket Man" and the Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You"). The jukebox mix gives way to a finale with a young kid -- probably Paul's son Johnny, 10, from a few years back -- mumbling and hollering like the Fall's Mark E. Smith over a rollicking guitar fade-out.

As messy as all that sounds, it's amazing how cohesive the album really is. Musically, it comes off as an easy compromise of his "Stereo"/"Mono" albums. Lyrically, it comes off as stream-of-consciousness, and in an unforced way. Some of the songs interlock thematically, especially the handful that reference the 2003 death of Hal Westerberg, his Cadillac-salesman dad. A few wistfully reflect on family and fatherhood in general.

That's so like Westerberg, to hide some of his most touching songs ever in a package without titles and deliver them in a way that probably won't make him any money. That doesn't mean "49:00" lacks genius, though.

His manager, Darren Hill, responded to questions about "49:00" as best he could. Which is to say he didn't have many answers. Since Paul is not tied to a record label, Hill lined him up with Tunecore.com, a site that delivers songs for indie artists to sites like Amazon. "He finished the album last Monday and sent it to me Tuesday, it was that quick a process," Hill said.

Hill doubts that Westerberg will re-release "49:00" in a more convetional form, or do anything to promote it (i.e., perform). He is working on more new music that will likely be released soon, Hill said, but "I'm not sure in what configuration."

RNC ETA

A slew of local musicians are lining up gigs around the Republican National Convention (Sept. 1-4), and it won't surprise people on either side of the fence that not many of them will be stumping for McCain.

Fog's Andrew Broder and Dad in Common's Joe Selinski hatched the idea for Eight Is Enough, an Obama fundraiser happening Aug. 27 at the Turf Club with Low, members of Tapes 'N Tapes, P.O.S., Dosh, the Stnnng and more. Adam Levy, John Munson and Matt Wilson are working on ProVention, a left-leaning rally at Midway Stadium on Sept. 2 with a tentative lineup that includes the Honeydogs, New Standards, Nellie McKay (Levy's pal), the Hopefuls and lots more. Also, I Self Devine, WookieFoot, Indigo and more will join Matisyahu, Michael Franti, Anti-Flag and others at Ripple Effect, a free progressive concert that's supposed to take place on the State Capitol grounds Sept. 2.

At least one event will be purely apolitical in tone: a 24-hour music-and-arts marathon called Spark24, happening over a 24-hour stretch at Orchestra Hall, Peavey Plaza and other downtown Minneapolis locations starting at 5 p.m. Aug. 30 with the Alarmists, New Congress, White Light Riot, Chris Koza, the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus and lots more.

How's Now Now?

A band that looks young and precocious enough to star in Harry Potter movies, Now, Now Every Children nonetheless worked some ageless magic on their "In the City EP," a four-song debut for Afternoon Records. The coed quartet -- friends from Blaine High School who range in age from 17 to 21 -- sounds like a cross between Silversun Pickups and Throwing Muses, with emphatic drumming and melodic bass parts pulsating behind singer/guitarist Cacie Dalager's willowy, whispery voice. The EP's opening cut, "Everyone You Know," especially stands out, much like fellow Afternoon kids Mouthful of Bees' "The Now" did. They perform Saturday at 7th Street Entry with One for the Team (6 p.m., $7, all ages).

A band that's almost twice NNEC's age (not saying much), Popcycle has two gigs this week to promote its new album, "Yesterday's Blast," including Saturday's Ol' Yeller farewell show at the Uptown Bar and a Thursday slot at the Turf Club. The record, which is a free download at Popcycle.net (take that, Westerberg!), confirms that frontman Scott Peterson isn't much of a singer, but he is a heck of a songwriter with smart, diverse tastes. He and the band capably bounce between Joe Henry-ish alt-country to Big Starry pop to Soul Asylum-like rock on the new eight-song collection.

Random mix

The news of Westerberg's "49:00" intermingled last week with Rhino Records' announcement that the latter four Replacements albums will be reissued Sept. 23 with six to 10 bonus tracks apiece. So Westerberg should make some money this year after all. See the full list of bonus cuts at startribune.com/poplife. ...

Rhino is also planning to issue a first-ever Golden Smog anthology that same day: "Stay Golden," culled from the band's '90s LPs and EP (but not any of its '00 work; too bad). That, too, will be issued on the heels of one of its singers' new efforts: Gary Louris' and Mark Olson's "Ready for the Flood" is due a week earlier. ...

Atmosphere is slated for another big TV appearance, on "The Late Show With David Letterman" (10:35 p.m. Wed., NBC). Maybe the Hold Steady put in a good word for Slug & Co. at its unforgettable appearance last week. ...

As promised, Muja Messiah is issuing his second disc of the year this week, "Thee Adventures of a B-Boy D-Boy." Computer glitches kept me from hearing the album in time to review, but I do know this is the more serious and personal yin to the playful yang on the excellent mix-tape collection Muja's this spring, "Minneapolis Massacre, Vol. 1." Sunday's star-studded release party at First Avenue (9 p.m., $10) should confirm if the guy steps up as one of the best MCs in town, as he and many of his peers have predicted.

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658