There’s no argument that anywhere-anytime digital music streaming is a huge benefit in these modern times. But even so, some of us can’t help but fondly recall the old days, when music sharing hinged on something a bit more tangible, personal and soulful — the mixtape. Well-executed ones were able to take listeners on a journey that traversed mournful landscapes, rage-filled quests against some sort of machine, or heart-swelling tides of emotions. And those who perfected their craft were no less artists, master-manipulators and gods, creating whole worlds between those two spoked wheels.

Well, those physical cassettes may be totally over, but the spirit remains, thanks to 8tracks. Pegging itself as the “social, curated alternative to Pandora,” this service has a singular purpose — to bring back the artistry and magic of handcrafted music selections.

Not that there’s anything wrong with artificial intelligence using algorithms to zero in on rhythm, tempo, and arrangement. Indeed, sometimes it’s amazing how a formula can deliver more of what a listener seems to like. It’s just that… well, the playlists can have a tendency to sound mind-numbingly homogeneous after a while — or get inexplicably random at times, which is bracing when you’re trying to create ambiance. Indeed, mood can be notoriously difficult to pinpoint without human intervention. That’s what makes 8tracks sheer genius. Imagine a cadre of music fiends, all equipped with giant toolsets — i.e., epic libraries that are bursting at the seams with selection — and all focused on bringing their own soundscapes forward. It’s like a playground for music-obsessed mix masters.

Once a website-only offering, 8tracks first debuted in the iOS App Store last spring, and recently Android users have gotten in on the action too. In fact, seems like the dev didn’t just port this over, but re-built it from scratch specifically for the Android platform.

That’s not to say it’s perfect — a given artist can only show up in a playlist two times, there are hourly and daily caps on the number of songs you can skip, and after listening to a whole playlist, it may randomize the order. Still, for a free offering that offers a unique approach to music discovery for the pickiest, most discerning music snob, this definitely merits a spot on that precious homescreen.

What are your favorite music streaming/discovery services? Are you already an 8tracks fan, or are you more of a Spotify or Grooveshark fiend? Or maybe you prefer to stick with the classics, like Slacker or Pandora. Tell us how you get your ear candy fix in the comments below.

[via TechCrunch]